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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]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for thirteenth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick will be joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Truex, Jr. will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday will be Gordon`s last race as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his fourteenth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Truex, Jr. is joined with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his sixth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway (renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for the day to honor the four-time champion) in Avondale, Arizona. Gordon is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS  and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS advances to the Champion 4 with his second place finish. Harvick is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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