After having to start near the rear of the field due to not getting through pre-qualifying technical inspection in time, Jimmie Johnson would make his way to the front of the field and win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It marks his 71st career victory in the Sprint Cup Series.
“It says a lot of good things, and I’m just so excited that this new team could understand what I was complaining about and the things that I didn’t like,” Johnson commented. “We had some troubles on pit road – for once, I got by the 19 (Edwards) which allowed us to keep track position and not get tripped up in pit stops. This thing was bad fast. I had a lot of fun battling the 4 (Harvick) there. Track position was key at the end was all that we needed at the end. Cleared the 88 (Earnhardt) and off we went.”
The caution would fly with 25 laps to go for Cole Whitt blowing his motor. The majority of the leaders would head down pit road, except for Matt Kenseth, Brett Moffitt and Clint Bowyer. Restarting in fourth, Johnson would get a strong restart to take the lead with 21 laps to go. He would then hold off his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next restart, who tried to make the move around the outside, and led the rest of the race en route to scoring the victory.
Harvick would lead the middle section of the event to lead the most laps at 116 despite starting last on the field due to an engine failure in practice.
“I just had one bad restart where I spun the tires on the outside and we just never recovered from that one,” Harvick commented. “We then got behind the 55 (Moffitt) and he was shooting for the moon and just didn’t go. All in all, it was a good day .”
Earnhardt Jr. would finish third to make it the second straight week for Harvick and Earnhardt finishing in their respective positions.
“Frustrated Thursday with the car not doing what we wanted,” Earnhardt said. “We improved and improved and got better. I thought we might be able to keep up with Jimmie. We ran over something on the track and it knocked out the grill. It just plowed after that and the 4 (Harvick) was able to pass us. We haven’t ran good here the last couple of years, and Greg (Ives) and the guys were able to put together a good car. The communication is good. He makes a pretty good cheerleader – who knew. I think he’s going to be great to work with. He’s going to do a helluva job. I’m glad to have a couple of years with him as he’s learning the ropes.”
Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano would finish fourth after starting on the pole and leading 84 laps early in the event. He now leads the points by one over Johnson.
“We started at the beginning of the race and the car drove pretty good,” Logano commented. “Obviously worked with the track bar adjustment but everyone got faster – we just stayed the same. Got a little bit of work to do, but still a great start to season. we’re picking up where we left off – just need to find a little more speed.”
Matt Kenseth’s gamble would result in a fifth place finish following an up-and-down day that at one point saw him take the wave around due to getting caught a lap down under a set of pit stops due to having to pit early with the tires showing cords.
“To finish fifth with the day that we had was a massive struggle,” Edwards said. “The team did a good job all day – some good adjustments, some bad adjustments. at the end we had to gamble to try and get the best finish that we could.”
Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Brett Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman.
That race would feature a pair of big wrecks during the final 69 laps.
On the restart following a caution for debris, Denny Hamlin would get loose off of turn two, turning down into Ryan Newman, causing Newman to turn into Jamie McMurray. McMurray then slid across the track and hit Jeff Gordon, causing Gordon to hit an inside wall that is not protected by a SAFER barrier.
“I was right on the 19 (Edwards) entering one, and he checked up,” Hamlin explained. “If I didn’t move to the right, I was going to spin him right. When I moved to the right, it put me right on the door of the 4 (Harvick) and it sucked me around. I apologize to all those cars involved. We had a good Toyota for most of the day. We just lost the handle during the last run and got back there.”
“I saw the 11 (Hamlin) get sideways and I had him cleared,” Gordon commented. “I guess the 1 (McMurray) got clipped and he crossed the track and hit me. After that, I was just along for the ride. It wouldn’t been too bad except I found that one spot that there is no SAFER barrier. I can’t believe that. Hopefully it will get fixed soon.”
Then with 2 laps to go, Greg Biffle would get into Joe Nemechek, resulting in a big wreck that collected Kyle Larson, Regan Smith, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Mike Bliss, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer.
“It got pretty smokey and blind there,” Stenhouse commented. “I locked it up as hard as I could. I could see Clint – thought I would get it stopped before I got to his bumper.”