SONOMA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stage win of the season in his home state on Sunday, topping the second stint of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at California’s Sonoma Raceway.
Johnson stayed out after the fourth caution flag of the day and led the final 11 laps of the stage to notch a playoff point towards his championship run in the 16th race of the season.
“We got a green flag for once, so that’s cool. I’m just glad to be in a good rhythm. I’ve been searching a little bit, since we got to the track on Friday. We had a tough Friday and tough Saturday, but Sunday’s looking pretty good right now.”
“I don’t know how (the pit strategy) is going to work out at the end. It’s fun to pass cars and it’s fun to have varying strategies on-track, but I just hope our strategy puts us up front with the best tires at the end, because I definitely think our Lowe’s Chevy is fast enough to win.”
After a largely clean opening stage, trouble broke out at Turn 5 on lap 31, as a three-wide scramble between polesitter Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick sent Patrick around and into the path of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as she spun back towards the track.
Stenhouse took the worst of the damage, piling hard into Patrick’s side and sustaining heavy nose damage that put him out of the race.
“They were just three-wide in front of us,” said Stenhouse after being released from the infield care center. “It looked like they all hit together and then Danica spun. I tried to get down and avoid it, but just hit her. It’s just unfortunate. We were having a little issue with our engine temps that we were looking at, but were just biding our time and saving our tires.”
More calamity broke out with 16 to go in the stage, with A.J. Allmedinger spinning at Turn 11 and collecting both Larson and Clint Bowyer. While all three were able to drive away, their races were hampered by damage as a result.
A caution with 12 to go before the stage break, for debris in Turn 11, sparked pit stops that shuffled Johnson — who stayed out — to the lead and Truex back to 24th for the stage-concluding 10-lap dash.
From there, it was Johnson’s stage to lose, trailed in second by Brad Keselowski, who crossed the line 4.656 seconds in arrears of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Two Toyotas in Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin were third and fourth, respectively, followed by the Ford of Joey Logano.
Earnhardt rallied back to finish sixth at the stage break, with Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Ryan Newman completing the top 10 and all scoring regular season points as a result of their efforts.
Kevin Harvick, who was running second to Johnson just before the stage break, pitted coming to two laps to go in a strategic play and was scored 20th at the green-checkered flag.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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