Jimmie Johnson rallied from 37th on the starting grid and led 92 laps en route to his fourth career triumph at Atlanta Motor Speedway, claiming Sunday’s Folds of Honor/QuikTrip 500.
Last year, Johnson had to wait until the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte to earn his first win. But by winning this second race of 2015, the six-time Sprint Cup champion has already ensured that he’ll battle for a record-tying seventh Cup title in the Chase (provided that he stays in the Top 30 in points through the regular season).
“It says a lot of good things,” Johnson told Fox Sports in Victory Lane. “I’m so excited the [new guys on the team] can understand what I was complaining about. We thought we were a Top-10 car last night, and I’m sorry to tell you that earlier today, I didn’t think we were gonna be that good.
“We had some troubles on pit road, but once we got by the 19 [Carl Edwards], that allowed us to get track position. And this thing was bad fast. I had a blast racing with the 4 [Kevin Harvick], he was awfully strong today. But I think track position at the end set things in place.”
Kevin Harvick led a race-high 116 laps but settled for second place after passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the spot with less than 10 laps to go. Pole sitter Joey Logano followed up his Daytona 500 win one week ago with a fourth-place result, and Matt Kenseth completed the Top 5.
How Jimmie Johnson won: Johnson held off a stiff challenge from Earnhardt on the final restart with 14 laps to go. Earnhardt hung with Johnson through Turns 1, 2, and the backstretch but Johnson was too strong and subsequently pulled away to his first Atlanta win since 2007 (he swept both Atlanta races that year).
“We got the restart we needed, cleared the 88 [Earnhardt], and off we went,” Johnson said.
Who else had a good day: Martin Truex Jr. has put together solid results in these first two races of 2015, finishing sixth today after an eighth-place run at Daytona … Also doing well were A.J. Allmendinger in seventh and Brett Moffitt, who took Brian Vickers’ No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to eighth. Vickers returns to the No. 55 next week at Las Vegas after recovering from off-season heart surgery.
Who had a bad day: Two major restart incidents ended the afternoon for multiple big names. A four-car melee off a restart with 69 laps to go ended with Jeff Gordon hitting an unprotected inside wall at the end of the backstretch. Then, with 21 laps to go, contact between Greg Biffle and Joe Nemechek led to a chain reaction crash that involved eight cars, including those of Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson.
Quote of the day: “Pretty convenient to c that SAFER Barrier end just before @jeffgordonweb pounds wall. Hope he’s healthy! When will this end @NASCAR” – Kyle Busch on Twitter, moments after Gordon’s crash. Busch is recovering from leg and foot injuries sustained in last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Daytona when he crashed into an unprotected wall himself.
Other notables: Regan Smith finished 17th in place of Kurt Busch for a second consecutive week, while David Ragan started his fill-in role for Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with an 18th-place showing.
What’s next: The series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next weekend’s Kobalt 400. Brad Keselowski won last year’s race, taking the lead on the last lap from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who gambled on fuel but ran out.