Jimmie Johnson didn’t qualify where he wanted, and his car never quite cooperated during the final practice session at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. So he spent Saturday evening in the garage area, going over different setups with the rest of his team.
That dedication, that attention to detail, is a big reason he’s chasing his sixth straight Cup title.
Johnson and his team must have figured things out. The defending series champion stormed to the front early Sunday, then weathered a series of late cautions before holding off Kasey Kahne in a green-white-checkered finish for his first win since April.
“Jimmie was very dedicated last night with us, trying to figure out the setup of the car,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We pored over a lot of combinations and we came up with a good one.”
Talk about an understatement.
Johnson led 197 laps in one of the most dominant performances the track has ever seen. The victory was the 55th for Johnson, moving him into a tie with Rusty Wallace for the eighth on the career list, and the 199th for team owner Rick Hendrick.
“The competitor in all of us, we’ve known we’ve been close,” Johnson said.
Johnson stumbled through the first two races in NASCAR’s version of a postseason, and was 10th in the standings heading to Dover. A second-place finish last weekend gave him confidence, and his first win since Talladega moved him into third in the Chase behind Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
“I know what my team is capable of,” Johnson said, “and we showed today what we’re capable of when we’re all performing at the top of our game.”
Jeff Gordon made things interesting when his engine blew up with three laps remaining.
Johnson chose not to pit before the sprint to the finish, but still managed to drive away from Kahne and Brad Keselowski on worn out tires. Keselowski, who won the Nationwide race Saturday, wound up third and climbed into fourth place in the Chase with six races left.
Edwards and Harvick came in tied for lead in the Chase, with the top nine drivers separated by a mere 19 points. Things shook out a bit Sunday, but Edwards and Harvick are still on top.
Edwards, who finished fifth, leads the Chase by a point over Harvick, who finished sixth. Keselowski climbed two spots to fourth in the standings, Matt Kenseth is fifth after a fourth-place run, Kurt Busch dropped two spots to sixth and Kyle Busch is seventh.
Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his second straight Formula One championship, finishing third behind Jenson Button in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Needing just one point to take the title if Button won the race, Vettel earned 15 points to clinch the title with four races left. The 24-year-old German star, the series’ youngest two-time champion, has nine victories this season for Red Bull.