Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jimmie Johnson hits on all cylinders in win at Atlanta

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs 
In a season that has, thus far, been filled with one bizarre event after another, the familiar sight of the No. 48 in Victory Lane at Atlanta brought a sense of order in the midst of the chaos. Though NASCAR Nation may not admit it, they're conditioned to believe that Jimmie Johnson should win races early and often, Johnson obliged by scoring his 71st victory in 473 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in the 56th Annual Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 

Despite cold, wet weather, Johnson notched career win number four at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and in the process, the six-time champion scored an early berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
“It's nice to know we're locked into the Chase,” said Johnson. “There's a lot of good things that come with it. We're pumped, excited, and looking forward to going racing next week.”

Johnson started in the rear of the field after having not gotten through tech inspection in time to make a qualifying lap. That didn’t seem to bother him, as he led six times for 92 laps. Johnson took the lead for the final time on Lap 305. A six-car wreck brought out a caution and then a nine-minute red flag on Lap 306, but Johnson outran the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick and the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the checkered flag.

"We felt like we were okay in the test session, the practice sessions through Friday and Saturday," explained Johnson. "We didn't think we had a dominant car or really kind of a car to race for the win. Seemed that other guys showed some speed. But through our process and through getting to know the new folks on our team, the engineers, they understood what I was asking for, found a way to give it to me."

Harvick’s second-place finish is his second in 2015, and his fifth top-two finish in the last five points-paying races. Although he earned the outside pole, Harvick brought the freaky-fast Jimmy John’s Chevy from the rear of the field after the No. 4 blew an engine in final practice.

“Yeah, we had a solid day,” said Harvick. “Everybody on our team did a great job. Jimmie really got rolling there halfway through the race. We had a heck of a race, had a lot of fun out there racing with him, trading the lead back and forth several times.”

Harvick also led six times, and led the most overall laps with 116.

“All in all it was a good, solid day,” Harvick stated. “ I know everybody wants to win. We just have to keep doing what we're doing. You put yourself in that position, you'll be able to win races.”

With the final restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried to get around Harvick but picked up some debris that he said punched a hole in the grille of the No. 88.

“We ran over something on the racetrack, knocked the grille out of it. It hurt the aerodynamics,” said Earnhardt. “Think we might have been able to race Kevin a little bit. It was pretty much over with when that happened. Real fortunate we didn't have another caution because I don't think we would have done well with the restart with that grille knocked out.”

Earnhardt finished third for the second time in infant 2015 season, but the best news for his fans is the rapport developing between Earnhardt and new crew chief Greg Ives.

“Happy with the car. Happy with Greg. Greg is great at communicating. Our communication is natural, feels good. He's a pretty decent cheerleader, too, for myself, the team. Man, he's going to be something else for a while around that garage. I'm glad to be able to work with him there.”

Daytona 500 winner and polesitter Joey Logano led five times for 84 laps but couldn’t keep up with track changes, and a slow pit stop put him out of reach of the leaders, so he settled for fourth.

Matt Kenseth managed to get up front for ten laps total, but couldn't manage to hold the lead.

Brett Moffitt
Credit Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
“It's good to finish fifth with the day we had,” said Kenseth. “It was a massive struggle, so my whole Dollar General team did a great job on our Camry – some bad adjustments, some good adjustments. Nobody gave up and they kept working on it, did all kinds of stuff to it and then at the end there we just had to gamble and try to get some track position and hold on to what we could."

In his final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon got swept up in a crash on Lap 257. Not only did he finish in 40th place, he also once again hit a place on the track not covered by SAFER Barrier.

Martin Truex, Jr. scored a sixth-place finish, with AJ Allmendinger, Brett Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman rounding out the top ten.

Allmendinger showed speed all weekend, starting from 11th, and Moffitt demonstrated why Michael Waltrip Racing entrusted him with the No. 55 seat to which Brian Vickers will return next week at Las Vegas.

Logano retains the points lead by a single point. Behind him are Johnson, who is one point ahead of Harvick, four points in front of Earnhardt, and 13 in front of  Truex.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the next Sprint Cup event on March 8.

Complete unofficial finishing order:

Fin St #    Driver          Led      Points
1 37 48    Jimmie Johnson 92 47
2 2 4    Kevin Harvick 116 44
3 9 88    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 1 42
4 1 22    Joey Logano 84 41
5 36 20    Matt Kenseth 10 40
6 14 78    Martin Truex, Jr. 0 38
7 11 47    A.J. Allmendinger 0 37
8 22 55    Brett Moffitt 1 37
9 12 2    Brad Keselowski 2 36
10 7 31    Ryan Newman 0 34
11 23 43    Aric Almirola 0 33
12 5 19    Carl Edwards 0 32
13 13 27    Paul Menard 0 31
14 10 5    Kasey Kahne 0 30
15 21 13    Casey Mears 0 29
16 18 10    Danica Patrick 0 28
17 38 41    Regan Smith 0 0
18 17 18    David Ragan 0 26
19 29 6    Trevor Bayne 0 25
20 16 51    Justin Allgaier 0 24
21 8 9    Sam Hornish, Jr. 0 23
22 26 38    David Gilliland 1 23
23 42 7    Alex Bowman 0 21
24 25 15    Clint Bowyer 1 21
25 19 16    Greg Biffle 0 19
26 6 42    Kyle Larson 0 18
27 24 95    Michael McDowell 0 17
28 31 62    Brendan Gaughan 0 0
29 32 33    Michael Annett 0 15
30 39 14    Tony Stewart 0 14
31 27 32    Mike Bliss 2 0
32 33 98    Josh Wise 0 12
33 28 34    Joe Nemechek 1 0
34 30 23    J.J. Yeley 0 0
35 40 26    Jeb Burton 0 9
36 20 17    Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 0 8
37 41 35    Cole Whitt 0 7
38 4 11    Denny Hamlin 14 7
39 15 3    Austin Dillon 0 5
40 3 1    Jamie McMurray 0 4
41 35 24    Jeff Gordon 0 3
42 34 30    Ron Hornaday, Jr. 0 2
43 43 40    Landon Cassill 0 0




LJ Cloud, aka Lisa or Janine, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track. A fifth-generation Texan, she began watching NASCAR in 1997, followed by almost every other form of motorsports from F1 to lawnmower racing. 
She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, beginning as a contributor, then became a media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and the Verizon IndyCar Series. 
LJ's other interests include photography, writing, reading, natural health, history, and genealogy. She works for Family Tree DNA, a company that performs DNA testing for genealogical purposes

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