BRISTOL, Tenn. — Make no mistake about it now: after a slow start to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, seven-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson is back in full form.
Johnson proved his win at Texas two weeks ago was far from a fluke, biding his time for the first three-quarters of Monday’s rain-postponed Food City 500 before finding the speed in his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet to charge around Joey Logano and take the top spot for the first time all day with 107 laps to go.
From there, Johnson waged a fierce war with race-long dominators Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., barely holding the lead each time either foe challenged him until late cautions and speeding penalties ultimately derailed both Larson and Truex’s drives for victory.
That left Johnson alone as the top challenger on the race’s final run, which began with 32 laps to go and saw Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin stay out on track, while Johnson and others pitted for fresh tires.
It only took eight laps for Johnson to move to second on the inside lane, and with 21 laps left he surged to the inside of Harvick to seize the lead for good, going on to record his second-consecutive Cup Series victory and first at Bristol since 2010.
“Today was kind of interesting, because when the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) was there (running on the bottom of the track), it just created an environment to run the top and I wasn’t as good on the top. With Kyle not being up there and that first couple of cars; the bottom was really where it was at for the short run.”
“This was just a really solid performance all day long; we had great pit stops. It was the same thing as at Texas. I think that was the piece we were lacking to start the season. I don’t know why … don’t know what it was, but our cars have been very capable of running up front, and it’s been nice these last two weeks to execute from the start of the race (and in) qualifying. We were saved by the rain this week.”
Monday marked Johnson’s 82nd career Cup win, one behind Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list, as well as his 14th career short track triumph in 92 starts.
“(To hear those numbers) … that’s just mind-blowing,” Johnson admitted. “I wouldn’t be here without Mr. Hendrick’s support. Thanks to him and to Jeff Gordon for believing in me. For Hendrick Motorsports to make this job kind of a family environment for all of us to thrive in … has been a perfect environment for me and (crew chief) Chad Knaus. The consistent group of guys behind me through all these years has led to the environment to win 82 races, which is just insane. I’m truly humbled.”
Behind Johnson, Clint Bowyer came through the field for a shock second-place finish, marking his best result since joining Stewart Haas Racing in the offseason.
“You got to put (this finish) in perspective,” said Bowyer. “We’ve come a long ways with this team. Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and all these guys, they work so hard. It’s so much fun to work with this group each and every week. Hell yeah, you want to be up there and win it but after the day we had … after I got caught speeding on pit road and put us in the back, to bounce back is huge.”
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