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Johnson shows them the way at Kansas

Anyone thinking that they could discount Jimmie Johnson's chances in this year's Sprint Cup Chase got a rude awakening at Kansas when the five-time champ delivered a masterclass.
The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup is proving thoroughly unpredictable and exciting - even if some of the individual races themselves have stubbornly refused to spark into life at times.

This week it was Jimmie Johnson who suddenly rebounded from a lacklustre start to the Chase by dominating the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, a race which ran for a long green flag stretch and looked about to settle into yet another fuel conservation finish, before a late sequence of yellow flags and a final green-white-chequered finish brought the event to life at last.

Greg Biffle had taken pole in qualifying and led the field to the green flag on Sunday afternoon for the fourth race of the Chase, with Carl Edwards alongside him on the front row. Once underway, Edwards immediately started falling back while Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart were notably on the move in the right direction.

A frontstretch spin by Bobby Labonte brought out the first caution on lap 20 and all the cars took advantage of the early opportunity to pit - including Jimmie Johnson, although he opted for two tyres only at this point and duly picked up eight spots and took the restart in the lead ahead of Matt Kenseth, Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle. Johnson led for the next 16 laps before Kenseth came on strong and settled in to a comfortable lead of his own which he was able to keep almost to the next round of green flag pit stops, after which the momentum swung back once more in Johnson's direction.

A short debris caution on lap 85 allowed Kyle Busch to win the race off pit lane and lead for a while, but it was a bad stop for Edwards who had sunk back to 19th before the stop and was now in 25th after the #99 crew threw everything short of the kitchen sink into the battle to revive the car's performance. Once Jimmie Johnson reclaimed the lead on lap 94, he was evidently moving in for the duration: with the exception of just three laps during the next three pit stop cycles he would stay in the lead right through to lap 220 which included a short third caution for debris on lap 206 after a 116-lap green flag stint.

The caution immediately put paid to the huge 12s lead that the #48 had been sitting on. Johnson had just put a lap on Kurt Busch, who accordingly got the free pass; that was bad news for Carl Edwards who had been desperately hoping to be leading the lapped cars and pick up the lucky dog for himself. It was looking a grim day for the #99 at this point.

On lap 210, Johnson led Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski to the green flag. The big discussion amongst the teams and their drivers was whether they could make it to the end of the race on their current tank of gas. Most decided not, even with a late top-off and excessive fuel conservation - not even a few more caution flags would probably be enough. And another caution was just round the corner, when Landon Cassill went for a spin through the in-field grass on the frontstretch on lap 221. The happiest man on track by far at this was Carl Edwards, who - having missed out under the previous caution - was now able to return to get the free pass back on to the lead lap at long last.

Almost everyone dived into pit lane for that vital extra fuel top-off, but Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick tried something different - Harvick intending to get a lot of fuel-saving push assistance from Austin Dillon, Richard Childress' grandson making his Cup debut this week at Kansas. But NASCAR stepped in at this point and told Harvick and Dillon to make sure there was clear daylight between them at all times and that push-assistance would not be tolerated. It was a strange out-of-the-blue ruling which - if applied to Daytona or Talladega - could theoretically transform superspeedway racing if not make it completely impractical. Such are the vagaries of the sanctioning body at times.

With fuel conservation no longer an issue, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart quickly took over the lead as Kurt struggled on his older tyres. It proved another short green flag run before the return of the yellows on lap 240 for debris. Rapid top-up pit-stops and fresh tyres ensued for some, after which Brad Keselowski was shown as the leader for the restart ahead of Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle. It didn't take long for Johnson to pass Keselowski for the lead on lap 245 and once he did he would never be displaced again until the chequered flag.

by Andrew Lewin



Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. [Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place racing with Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS who finishes in eleventh place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A view of a decal placed on the #14 Code 3 Associates / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart (not pictured), during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane with girlfriend Paige White after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 FVP/Menards Chevrolet SS finishes in fourth place and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS finishes in fourteenth place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS finishes in third place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS finishes in second place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualifies for 2nd position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Joining him on the front row will be Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS who won the Pole position. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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