A new low-downforce package and heavy tire wear was no match for Jimmie Johnson, scoring his 76th career victory and tying the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list. Here are three keys to Johnson's historic victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
By Tom Jensen
It was another wild day at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as drivers wrestled with NASCAR's new low-downforce package and heavy tire wear.
And at the end of 500 long miles, Jimmie Johnson persevered to capture his 76th career victory, tying Johnson with the late Dale Earnhardt.
Here are three keys to Johnson's historic victory:
Short-pit -- Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus made a great strategic call, bringing Johnson in for tires nine laps before Kevin Harvick on the penultimate green-flag stop. Harvick dominated the race, leading 131 of 329 laps. But with fresh tires worth so much speed, Johnson was able to build a big lead while Harvick was still on old rubber.
"Definitely a gutsy call," said Johnson. "It was such a great team effort. The 4 car (Harvick) was awfully tough and we knew it was going to take some strategy to get by him. When he (Knaus) told me to whip it as hard as I could there, I felt it was going to take too much life out of the tires, but it worked."
Johnson's lead, which at one point was more than 13 seconds, was too much for Harvick to overcome late in the race.
Make a great restart -- When Ryan Newman cut a tire with three laps to go, Johnson and Harvick restarted on the front row. The green flag came out and Johnson made a perfect restart and Harvick didn't, falling to sixth.
On the restart Johnson had Kyle Busch right behind him, but he was able to hold off the defending series champion as Harvick drifted up high and out of contention. At the start-finish line, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to edge Busch for second place.
Don't make mistakes on pit road -- Matt Kenseth had one of the fastest cars in the race, but a pit-road violation cost him a shot at victory. During a stop, his gasman placed a wedge-adjustment wrench on the trunk of Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota while the gas can was plugged into the filler neck, a violation of the rules.
While crew chief Jason Ratcliff argued whether Kenseth should have been penalized or not, NASCAR black-flagged Kenseth, which went ignored. He ultimately was penalized one lap for the pit infraction and another for ignoring the black flag.
Likewise, Joey Logano had to pit his No. 22 Team Penske Ford under green to replace a loose wheel that wasn't properly tightened on the previous stop. Logano, who won more races than any other driver last year, had a disappointing outing, winding up 12th.
Kevin Harvick dominated the race, but his last pit stop was a disaster, taking about 16 seconds. "We just didn't execute today," said Harvick.