Johnson Takes Lead in Closing Laps to Win at Thunder Valley

by Tucker White On Mon, Apr. 24, 2017

Jimmie Johnson celebrates victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Jimmie Johnson passed Kevin Harvick with 21 laps to go and drove on to win the day-late Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Harvick opted not to pit under the final caution of the race with 40 to go and assumed the race lead. Johnson lined up second after Martin Truex Jr., who beat him off pit road, was busted for speeding and sent to the tail-end of the field.

On the final restart with 32 to go, Harvick got off to a flying start and held off Johnson for a time. But his old tires were no match for Johnson’s four fresh tires and he lost to Johnson with 21 to go.

“Yeah, it was kind of interesting because when the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) was there, it just created an environment to run the top and I wasn’t as good on the top,” Johnson said. “The No. 42, not being up there and that first couple of cars; the bottom was really where it was at for the short run. This Lowe’s Chevrolet was flying!

“This track has been difficult over the years and we really hit on something Saturday afternoon in that last practice session around the bottom and honestly, it’s what I’ve been looking for here for 16 years and we finally figured it out. So, I’m very, very happy.”

It’s Johnson’s 82nd career victory in 551 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.

Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer came home second and Harvick rounded out the podium in third.

“We’ve come a long way with this team,” Bowyer said putting it into “perspective,” as he stated. “These guys have worked so hard; it’s a fun group, everybody at Haas. My teammates are awesome. It’s so much fun to work with this group each and every week. Hell yeah, you want to be up there and win it. But the day we had, I got caught speeding on pit road and had to bounce back. The guys kept working on the car. I appreciate the opportunity that Gene Haas and Tony Stewart gave me. Mobil 1, Haas Automation and everyone that’s a part of it.”

Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five.

Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-10.

“I’m a little disappointed, but not bad. I’m more disappointed in myself from getting that speeding penalty with 80 (laps) or so to go,” Larson said. “I was just pushing it down pit road and pushed it a little too far. I had a shot there still at the end, but four tires were better than ours.”

Larson led the field to the green flag at 1:11 p.m. He led the first stage from start to finish and got the playoff point for winning it.

He dominated most of the second stage but lost the lead when Truex passed him in Turn 2 on lap 202 and Truex won the second stage.

After losing the lead to Landon Cassill during the caution break, he took it back with ease on the ensuing restart. But on the lap 329 restart, Logano took the lead after Truex chose to restart on the bottom.

Jimmie Johnson made contact with Logano as he took the lead with 106 to go.

During the eighth caution, Hamlin opted not to pit and took the lead. Restarting with 73 to go, he held off Johnson for six laps before Johnson took it.

A two-car wreck with 40 to go set up the run to the finish.

Kurt Busch brought out the first caution on lap 54 when he bounced off Trevor Bayne exiting Turn 4, slid down the track and hit the inside wall. Chris Buescher slammed into the back of Reed Sorenson trying to slow down in an attempt to miss Busch.

Kyle Busch brought out the third caution on lap 210 when he suffered a right-front tire blowout and slammed the wall in Turn 2.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought out the third caution on the lap 217 restart when a right-front tire cut led to him slamming the wall in Turn 1 and rupturing an oil cooler line.

On lap 323, David Ragan attempted to thread the needle between teammate Cassill and Danica Patrick exiting Turn 2. Patrick bumped into him, sending him into Cassill and sent him spinning into the outside wall in Turn 3.

Kyle Busch suffered a second right-front tire blowout and slammed the Turn 3 wall with 116 to go, bringing out the sixth caution.

Erik Jones made contact with Gray Gaulding, cut down his right-front tire and slammed the wall in Turn 3. AJ Allmendinger clipped the left-rear corner of Jones’s car.

The final caution flew when Kasey Kahne hit the wall in Turn 3 and was rear-ended by Paul Menard with 40 to go.

The race lasted three hours, four minutes and 29 seconds at an average speed of 86.674 mph. There were 14 lead changes among seven different drivers and nine cautions for 76 laps.

Larson leaves Bristol with a 27-point lead over Elliott.

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