Release from Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Jimmie Johnson stuck three fingers out of his window on a victory lap Sunday after the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
His fifth win and second straight at the 1.54- mile track tied him with Dale Earnhardt on the all-time list.
“It’s such an honor,” said Johnson, who now has 76 wins. “With the chaos at the end and the crash and wondering about overtime and how it worked these days, I kind of lost sight of that.
“I remembered it on my victory lap coming down, and I had to come by and throw a ‘3’ out the window to pay my 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.”
A gutsy call by crew chief Chad Knaus on the timing of the last pit stop gave Johnson a chance to grab the lead.
Johnson pitted seven laps before the leaders Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Then it became a waiting game to see if Johnson’s tires would fall off enough for anyone to catch him.
“We raced our way up to the top four or five and just kind of managed that position all day long,” Knaus said. “We needed to figure out a way to get to the front. You could just see it, around 40 laps, everybody wanted to pit. Everybody was getting nervous about their tires.
“As we were going through the race, ours was getting better, so we were like, ‘Shoot, let’s go ahead and throw it out there and see what happens.’ It worked out.”
Harvick made some inroads as the laps ticked off, but was still more than five seconds off Johnson’s pace when Ryan Newman blew a tire and brought out just the second caution of the race with three laps left.
It gave Johnson and Harvick a chance for four fresh tires on identical 11.1-second pit stops.
Harvick, who led 131 of the 325 laps, spun his tires and Johnson shot to the front when the green flag dropped. Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped up from fifth to give Hendrick Motorsports the 1-2 finish.
“I loved it,” Earnhardt said. “We were sliding around and driving the hell out of the car. I had a blast.
“I post old pictures online all the time of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and that’s when racing was racing. That’s when it was good. That’s what they saw today.”
Drivers ran for 210 laps before the first caution, obliterating the old record at Atlanta. In the last 16 Cup races there, they had never made it past lap 40 without the yellow flag coming out. In the last decade, three races haven’t made it five laps without a caution, including the 2005 spring race in which there was a 10-car pileup on the first lap.
“I’m glad we didn’t have a ton of restarts today because sometimes those don’t really show the true ability of the car,” Earnhardt said. “You get lucky on some restarts and sometimes you don’t, depending on the lane you’re in. And a lot of times you can’t make heads or tails of what to do.
“Just like at the end, we gained a few spots and got lucky. But you ain’t always going to be lucky. I’ve been on the other end of it where you lose spots in late, late restarts and you get so mad. But there wasn’t no debris cautions, those were legit ones today.”
Kyle Busch raced from the back of the field to finish third. He was originally the pole winner, but his car failed inspection and brother Kurt Busch took over the top starting position. Kurt Busch, who led more laps than anyone except Harvick, was fourth. Carl Edwards was fifth and Harvick, last year’s runner-up, ended up sixth.
“We had issues about the last three runs,” Harvick said. “I had to start driving the car different. It just required a little bit different handling. And then we had a slow pit stop there. We got way behind and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) was way out front and I had to drive the car really hard and got the right rear burned up.
“We just didn’t execute today but everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Chevrolet hung in there all day and we’ll keep at it.”
The hometown kid in his first Sprint Cup season, Chase Elliott, finished eighth to put three Hendrick drivers in the top 10.
“(I’m) just happy to be a part of this team everybody fought awfully hard,” said Elliott, who started 24th and worked his way up. “We are excited about today. I think it is something to build off of. It’s not perfect, it’s a start.”