Jimmie Johnson moved into a tie for seventh on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with Dale Earnhardt, capturing his 76th career Sprint Cup victory Sunday.
Johnson took the checkered flag in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch as the race went five extra laps past the scheduled 325-lap event.
Richard Petty (200 wins) is the all-time winningest driver in the Sprint Cup Series, followed by David Pearson (105), Jeff Gordon (93), Darrell Waltrip (84), Bobby Allison (84), Cale Yarborough (83), Dale Earnhardt (76) and now Johnson (76).
It was a 1-2 Hendrick Motorsports finish with Johnson, who is now qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Earnhardt Jr. Johnson took the lead for good on lap 286 and held on for the remaining 44 laps.
Kyle Busch, who won the pole position on Friday, only to have it disallowed after the No. 18 Toyota failed post-qualifying inspection, rallied from starting at the back of the field Sunday to finish third.
Kevin Harvick, who led a race-high 131 laps, spun his tires on the final restart with two laps to go and fell back to a sixth-place finish.
Only 12 cars were on the lead lap when the checkered flag fell.
There was only one caution flag in the race (for debris on Lap 210) until Lap 322 when Ryan Newman experienced a single-car spin after apparently experiencing a tire failure. That put the race into overtime.
HOW JOHNSON WON: Crew chief Chad Knaus wasn’t taking any chances. He brought Johnson in early on the final green-flag stop — 10 laps ahead of Harvick, who had a much slower stop. Johnson took the lead and stayed there. “It was definitely a gutsy call,” Johnson told Fox Sports. “The 4 car was awfully tough and it was going to take some strategy to get by him. When (Knaus) told me to whip it as hard as I could there, I just felt like I was going to take too much lap out of the tires, but it worked. I got rolling around the top and got to where I got to Victory Lane.” Another big key was the final restart. Johnson had a perfect jump, while Harvick spun his tires and fell back, ending any chance for a last-lap rally.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD DAY: Even though he never led a lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied from fifth in the final laps to take second place. “You get lucky on some restarts and sometimes you don’t. We gained a few spots at the end and got lucky,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports. … Kyle Busch ignored that he started at the back of the pack, led two laps and barely lost second to Earnhardt. … Chase Elliott rebounded from his disappointment at Daytona to finish eighth.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Clint Bowyer struggled throughout the race, finishing 35th, eight laps off the lead lap. … Aric Almirola was closing in on a potential top 10 finish until he was involved in a last lap wreck with David Ragan, Ryan Blaney and Landon Cassill. Almirola’s car burst into flames but he was able to exit without incident.
NOTABLE: After earning his fifth career win at Atlanta, Johnson took a victory lap, sticking three fingers out the driver’s side window in honor of tying the late Dale Earnhardt with his 76th career win. … Ty Dillon, filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, finished 17th. … Chevrolet had five finishers in the top 10, Toyota had three and Ford had two. … Harvick may be disappointed by the way he faded at the end of the race, but he has this to look forward to: He won two of last year’s races (Las Vegas, Phoenix) on the upcoming West Coast swing, and finished third (Fontana) in the other.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It is such an honor. The chaos at the end and the crash and wondering about overtime, I kind of lost sight of that (tying Earnhardt). I remembered on my victory lap, coming down, I had to throw a 3 out the window to pay respects to the man. There’s a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him, but at least I was able to tie his record.” – Race winner Jimmie Johnson on tying Dale Earnhardt for seventh on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup all-time wins list (76 wins each).
WHAT’S NEXT: Kobalt 400, March 6 (3:30 p.m. ET), Las Vegas Motor Speedway.