Jimmie Johnson scored his 50th career victory and his first at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday. Johnson was able to work his way up and through the top five and onto victory after a late race caution.
Kurt Busch dominated the Food City 500 with Johnson hounding him the entire afternoon. Busch led a race high and career high 278 laps but came up short in the end.
“I’d rather lose to any of the 41 cars out there than the 48 car.,” said Busch who swept both Bristol races last season. “I thought we had them beat. I gave it my heart today, but came up short.”
Both Busch and Johnson took four tires during a caution with just over 10 laps to go. Four drivers, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart elected to take only two tires and started ahead of Johnson and Busch.
With four new tires, Johnson was able to weave his way through and past Stewart and the Roush drivers while Busch was held off by eventual second place finisher Stewart.
“We felt very confident we’d be able to get back up to the front, get a solid top five” Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus said of the call for four tires. “That’s kind of what our goal was for the day, to come out of here with a top-10 finish, a strong run and build on for what we needed in the fall. It was a pretty easy decision in all honesty.”
The runner-up finish for Stewart was his best of the season to date
“It was a 10 -lap sprint to the end there. We were too loose the run before that and couldn’t get the track position we lost there,” Stewart said. “He (Darian Grubb, crew chief) left it to me, so whether I made the right call or not, I don’t know. Darian and these guys did an awesome job. We got the thing tightened up a little bit to where at the end we could charge. It was hard. We struggled on restarts. Once the track got rubbered in, it was pretty good but we were terrible when there wasn’t any rubber on the track.”
The three Roush drivers held on to take the next three spots; Biffle fourth, Kenseth fifth and Edwards sixth.
“I thought we were gonna be fighting for the win,” Edwards said. “But Jimmie got in there with four tires and shook it all up and ended up getting the win. That’s the best we ran all day was sixth, so that’s pretty decent.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame an earlier pit road speeding penalty to finish seventh, followed by Jamie McMurray in eighth. Kyle Busch also overcame adversity after he lost a right front tire and slammed the wall earlier in the day to finish 9th. Jeff Burton rounded out the top 10.
The race saw two cautions for rain and weather threatened all afternoon but held off as Johnson scored the win that now puts him 10th on NASCAR’s all time win list tied with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.
Sunday also marked the final time NASCAR will race with the wings on their next generation racecars. Starting with next week’s Martinsville race, Sprint Cup cars will revert to the older style spoilers. In all NASCAR raced with the wings 93 times; Johnson won 22 of those 93 races with the wing. Kyle Busch was second with 13. Carl Edwards was third with 11
“A couple cool stats and an awesome victory today,” Johnson said “I’m just proud of what we continue to do. I mean, it’s one thing to have some success, but to continue to do it year after year, to find tracks that really are our weakest tracks, focus on them, get stronger and better at them, is a cool thing to experience.”
“Very proud of the effort,” he added. “Winning here, I think the guys we’ve got something for them for the rest of the year.”
Kevin Harvick, who finished 11th Sunday, holds a one point lead in the Sprint Cup driver’s standings heading to next week’s stop in Martinsville.
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