HAMPTON, Ga. – Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, pit-road strategy led to a milestone win for Jimmie Johnson.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS headed to pit road ahead of the leaders late in the race, which ultimately earned him a lead he was able to maintain even when a late-race incident sent the event to overtime.
"Definitely a gutsy call,” Johnson said. “Just such a great team effort."
Johnson’s trip to Victory Lane gave him 76 in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, tying him with Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list.
“It is such an honor,” Johnson said, moments after holding three fingers out of his window during his victory lap in order to pay respect. “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.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished just behind Johnson in second place, giving Hendrick Motorsports its 40th all-time one-two result.
“I’m so happy for Hendrick Motorsports and for everybody at Chevrolet and Lowe's,” Johnson said.
Chase Elliott joined his teammates in the top 10 with an eighth-place result, his first career top-10 finish in the Sprint Cup Series, and it just happened to come at his home track.
Kasey Kahne finished 23rd in a race highlighted by long green-flag runs, the first of which lasted more than 200 laps.
“I loved it,” Earnhardt said. “I had a blast.”
Below is a detailed look at how all four Hendrick Motorsports teammates fared Sunday at Atlanta.
For a photo gallery from Victory Lane, click here.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 PANASONIC TOUGHBOOK CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Starting just outside the top 10, Kahne fell back in the pack early in the race, finding the 27th position on Lap 30. After a green-flag pit stop on Lap 42, he returned to the track in 20th as the field cycled through. But by Lap 60, Kahne had fallen a lap down, running 27th. The entire first half of the race was run without a single caution flag, and Kahne found himself in 25th down two laps at the midway point of the event. That’s where he remained when the first caution flag of the day waved on Lap 210. The second segment of the race featured another long green-flag run and Kahne wasn’t able to make up much time, ultimately finishing 23rd.
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Elliott began the race at his hometown track just inside the top 25, and five laps in he was up to 20th. The rookie steadily improved through the first 40 laps of the race, finding the top 10 as leaders began to make their first green-flag pit stops of the afternoon. Thanks to a quick stop by the No. 24 crew, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS returned to the track in 12th, and by Lap 72 he was back in the top 10. He continued to race in that range, teetering on the edge of the top 10 through two more cycles of green-flag stops as the race stayed green through the midway point of the race. At halfway, Elliott was running ninth. When the first caution flag of the race flew on Lap 210, Elliott was eighth, and that’s where he remained after his trip to pit road. With less than 100 laps to go, the rookie moved up to seventh, and he continued to battle inside the top 10 down the stretch. Due to a late incident, the race went to overtime, and Elliott held on through the green-white-checkered finish to take home eighth, his first career top-10 finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Johnson rolled off the grid just inside the top 20, and five laps into the event he was already running 14th. That became the top 10 by Lap 19, and after a cycle of green-flag pit stops, Johnson was running fifth on Lap 50. On Lap 72, however, Johnson headed to pit road after reporting a vibration that turned out to be a loose wheel. He fell a lap down until the leaders pitted as well, at which point the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS moved back on the lead lap and all the way up to the race lead on Lap 80. Through two more sets of green-flag pit stops, Johnson found himself in third at the midway point of the race when there had yet to be a caution flag. When the first yellow flag of the race was displayed on Lap 210, Johnson remained in third, and he gained another position to second thanks to a speedy pit stop by the No. 48 team. He maintained his top-three position up to his green-flag stop with 49 laps to go, approximately nine laps before the leaders. He fell a lap behind in 12th before the leaders headed to pit road, allowing him to once again find the race lead with 40 laps to go. The strategy paid off, as Johnson held the lead even through an overtime finish to take the checkered flag for his 76th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, tying Earnhardt Sr. for seventh on the all-time wins list.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Earnhardt started Sunday on the verge of the top 15, and within five laps he was already inside the top 10. Using the outside lane, Earnhardt raced all the way into the top five after 10 laps. On Lap 40, Earnahrdt headed to pit road for a green-flag stop, relaying to his team that he had backed off due to a vibration. As the field cycled through, he was running 10th, and through two more cycles of green-flag pit stops, Earnhardt was in sixth just past the midway point of the race. The long green-flag run continued until Lap 210, when the first caution flag of the race waved. At that point, Earnhardt was running sixth, and he picked up a spot into the top five thanks to a speedy pit stop by the No. 88 crew. At Lap 255, he moved up to fourth following another cycle of green-flag pit stops, and he remained inside the top five with 25 laps to go in the midst of another long green-flag run. When the race went to overtime, Earnhardt used the green-white-checkered finish to his advantage, moving all the way up to second when he crossed the finish line.