A week after a penalty for jumping the final restart at Dover knocked Johnson out of a near-certain victory, Johnson absolutely scorched the field in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400, beating Greg Biffle to the finish line by 1.208 seconds.
The win was Johnson’s third of the season, his third at the Tricky Triangle and the 63rd of his career. Johnson increased his series lead over second-place Carl Edwards (18th Sunday) to a staggering 51 points after 14 races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran third, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
“What a race car!” Johnson said after climbing from the No. 48 Chevrolet in Victory Lane. “Not only a great race car but an engine. We had fuel mileage and plenty of power. It was awesome on the straightaways today to be able to do what I wanted around other cars.
“So hats off to chassis, aero and the engine shop for this awesome race car.”
You might think winning at Pocono for the first time since he swept both races here in 2004 might assuage the sting of last week’s penalty. You’d be wrong.
“No, but it’s OK,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t make up for much, but we know we’re a great race team. Things won’t keep us down. We had a great race car today and had a lot of fun. That was a lot of fun out there.”
Johnson avoided a surfeit of action in the late stages of the race–because he was ahead of it. By the time Dave Blaney’s spin brought out the fourth caution on Lap 138, the five-time champion already had led 106 laps.
That yellow followed a caution for an accident in the Tunnel Turn on Lap 133, when Juan Pablo Montoya drove hard into the corner under Matt Kenseth, lost control of his No. 42 and started a synchronized spin with Kenseth.
Subsequently, Johnson had to endure four restarts but did so as the leader and quickly regained control of the race in each instance. All told, Johnson led 128 of 160 laps.
Biffle was happy with a runner-up finish that jumped him three positions to 10th in the standings, but he conceded that his No. 16 Ford was no match for Johnson’s Chevy SS.
“Jimmie was in a league of his own,” said Biffle, who took the green flag from the fourth position on the final restart with four laps left and surged past Earnhardt and Kyle Busch in the first corner. “I was going to have to get up beside him, take the air off him–something to try and gain an advantage.
“But I gave him such a good push on the restart I couldn’t catch back up with him… I couldn’t get him.”
Though Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Hamlin finished sixth and eighth, respectively, Hamlin said he could feel a reduction in horsepower in his TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engine, after the engines were detuned in favor of reliability in reaction to several recent valve train failures.
“Any horsepower change is going to be a difficult thing to overcome, especially this week and next week (at Michigan), our two horsepower race tracks,” Hamlin said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to say that other guys probably stepped up coming to this race track, and we took a step back.
“It’s kind of a double whammy, but it’s something TRD’s going to work through.”