Jimmie Johnson has extended his NASCAR Sprint Cup advantage following a second place finish in the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Johnson started on the pole when qualifying was cancelled due to rain and took the lead at the start of the race. He held the position for the first 20 laps of the 325-lap race and led again for eight additional laps from laps 38 to 45 at the wheel of the #48 Lowes Chevrolet Impala.
However disaster struck on lap 89 when the defending, two-time NASCAR champion was penalised for speeding on pit road and forced to serve a pass-through penalty under green flag conditions. Johnson resumed in 30th place, one lap down, but made is way back onto the lead lap when waved by on lap 132 during another caution period.
He climbed back through the field and with team crew chief Chad Knaus calling Johnson in for a late tyre change under caution, he was able to make the most of fresh rubber to storm through to second place; stealing the position on the final lap from Denny Hamlin.
“Having new tires versus those other guys; that was just a great call,” he said. “It was a risky call but it just shows that Chad's out there racing. He's not trying to ride around and just get points; he's out there trying to earn them. He called me in for tyres and told me to put my cape on and off we went. I'm very happy that we got second place today.
“I guess I made a mistake getting onto pit road and got nailed for a speeding violation and then we just fought and fought and fought to get back. I'm leaving here very happy. That's almost like a win today."
Johnson's performance drew credit from Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick, who admitted he wouldn't fancy racing against the champion elect.
“Jimmie is just phenomenal,” he said. “That combination is unbelievable but Jimmie Johnson has so much talent and so much confidence. He knows exactly what that car is capable of doing and he'll put it in places where you'd think, 'No way.' I think it was his off-record experience but, man, he can drive a car out of control and be under control. He knows he has a feel for what the car can do. I'm just glad I don't have to race against him.”