In a show of Hendrick Motorsports muscle, Jimmie Johnson held off a strong last-lap charge by Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick finished second, followed by two other HMS drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, as well as pole-sitter Joey Logano.
It was Johnson’s 73rd career win and third of the season. He also set a NASCAR record by recording his 23rd career victory on a 1.-5 mile track. It was also Johnson’s third career win at Kansas Speedway, tying him with Gordon for most wins there.
The key for the HMS onslaught was all three drivers (along with Kurt Busch) not pitting during the final caution of the race after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked with 12 laps left. The track position they maintained was the difference in allowing the three HMS drivers to finish in the top-5.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.
How Johnson won: With 12 laps left, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. blew a tire and wrecked. Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Kurt Busch all decided to stay out on track, while the majority of the other leaders came in for fuel and at least two tires, except for Truex, who came in just for fuel. That was the difference in the race. Johnson led just the final 10 laps of the 267-lap event. “It was a long hard night of racing and fighting for track position,” Johnson said. “Once we got up front, we were able to hang on for the final eight or nine laps, whatever it was.”
Who else had a good day: Martin Truex Jr. appeared headed for his first win of the season, leading a race-high 95 laps, but after pitting for fuel following Stenhouse’s wreck (did not take tires), trailed back in the closing laps. Still, he wound up with a top-10 finish (9th). “I hate fuel mileage racing,” Truex said. “Because of that, I’ve never come out once in my career on the right side of one of these deals. … We’re going to get one (win). We just need to keep digging.” … Other strong efforts came from Matt Kenseth (6th), Busch (8th) and Sam Hornish Jr. (16th), in his first race with new crew chief Kevin Manion.
Who had a bad day: Wrecks left Tony Stewart (39th), Erik Jones (40th) and Denny Hamlin (41st). Jones was making his Sprint Cup debut and drove smart until he lost control of his car and wrecked, ending his day early. Meanwhile, Stewart’s horrible season continues. … In his debut for Michael Waltrip Racing, David Ragan also was involved in a wreck that left him with a 33rd place finish.
Notables: Carl Edwards led 12 laps but couldn’t get quite enough forward drive, ending up 20th. … Brad Keselowski led 43 laps and at one point appeared poised to make it a 1-2 finish with teammate Joey Logano, but pitting on the final caution pushed Keselowski back to his eventual 7th place finish. Speaking of Logano, he led 29 laps. … The race was delayed by 2 hours, 16 minutes due to rain that started falling, bringing out a red flag race stoppage after the first 98 laps.
Quote of the day: “They didn’t throw a caution until like seven seconds after I wrecked. Luckily, nobody hit us in the door.” – Denny Hamlin, unhappy that it took NASCAR so long to throw a caution after his spin and wreck on Lap 208. Hamlin wrecked hard and his car suffered major damage.
What’s next: May 16, 7 pm ET, Sprint All-Star Race (non-points race), Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next points-paying race is the Coca-Cola 600, May 24, 6 pm ET, also at Charlotte Motor Speedway.