10 June 2013
Johnson in total control at Pocono
A week after losing out at Dover through a controversial restart penalty at Dover, Jimmie Johnson made sure nothing got in the way of victory at Pocono.
In a week of dominating performances - Sebastian Vettel in Montreal, Helio Castroneves in Texas - Jimmie Johnson's victory at Pocono Raceway stood shoulder to shoulder with the best of them as he powered his way to his third win of 2013 and opened up a chasm in the points standings over his nearest rival Carl Edwards.
It was Edwards alongside whom Johnson took the green flag for the start of the 'Party in the Poconos 400' at the 2.5-mile tri-oval on Sunday afternoon, after qualifying on Friday had been rained out leaving the cars lined up in points order for the start of the race. Johnson didn't get the best start which allowed Edwards to jump away and lead for the first nine laps of the race, but the five-time champion was soon back in his grove and passed the #99 to take the lead for the first time on lap 10.
After that, Johnson stayed out in front save for short periods during pit stop sequences that allowed Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman to briefly head the field, but Johnson was always soon back in charge. Not even a debris caution on lap 67 broke his momentum for very long.
Seeing that the writing was on the wall, Ryan Newman realised that if anything were to be done about the #48's impending visit to victory lane then it would have to be the result of some strategic cunning, so he went off-sync with the pit stops and picked up the lead on lap 100. He maintained the top spot for the next 13 laps, the longest period all afternoon that Johnson hadn't taken point, but the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was reliant on there being a late caution or two to allow him to make the one extra pit top he still had to take, hopefully without too far back from the leaders in the process.
Newman's luck was in, and he got not one but five different cautions in the final 35 laps of the 168-lap event. The first was on lap 125 when the yellows came out for oil on the track: Newman led at the green flag, but it was Johnson who immediately seized back control.
A few minutes later, lap 133 saw Juan Pablo Montoya dive deep and hard into turn 2 in an effort to pass Matt Kenseth, but he couldn't hold the ambitious move and the two went for a synchronised spin that brought out the third yellow of the afternoon. Johnson survived another restart only to have the yellows out again on lap 138 when Dave Blaney went for a spin.
Two more restarts awaited Johnson - a caution on lap 148 for the #51 Phoenix Racing car of AJ Allmendinger lowing on the backstretch, and a final yellow on lap 154 for a second spin for Blaney - but the Hendrick Motorsport driver weathered them both imperiously without putting a foot wrong - perhaps making a point about last week, where a jump start penalty following a late caution at Dover International Raceway had cost him a likely victory.
No such chance here. Although Greg Biffle got a brilliant final restart that propelled him from fourth place past Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch into second place by the flag, he was still over a second off the leader and confessed that there had never been a realistic chance of stealing the win from Johnson this weekend.
"Jimmie was in a league of his own," said Biffle. "I was going to have to get up beside him, take the air off him - something to try and gain an advantage.
"But I gave him such a good push on the restart I couldn't catch back up with him," he added. "I couldn't get him."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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