It took seven years and an extra day, but seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson stood in Bristol Motor Speedway’s victory lane once again Monday.
Johnson won the rain delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 Monday taking the lead for the final time with 22 laps to go to scone the 82nd win of his career and his second in a row having won at Texas two weeks ago. It marked the 11th time that Johnson has consecutive wins in his career and his second at Bristol.
“This track has been really difficult for me over the years,” Johnson said. “To be able to find what we did Saturday afternoon it’s honestly what I’ve been looking for, for 16 years up here. Really 18 years when I look at my two years in Xfinity.”
“My guys nailed their pit stops all day long. Great team effort, just a ton of fun out there racing. This track has always been very racy, but now that we can hunt the bottom and we can run two and three wide and put on a heck of a show for the fans.”
Clint bowyer overcame a speeding penalty to finish second, Kevin Harvick was third with Matt Kenneth and Joey Logano rounding out the top five.
Thanks to a sticky substance put down on the bottom of the racetrack in the turns, by the halfway point of Monday’s five hundred lap event, two grooves had opened making for some of the best racing seen at Bristol in some time, and some of the best racing this season. There were several three-way battles for the lead throughout the day as well as battles for position all through the field.
Speeding penalties doomed several of the races early top runners.
Polesitter Kyle Larson led the first 202 laps, and won the first stage, and looked strong nearly the entire race. A speeding penalty during pit stops during the races eighth caution on lap 420 sent Larson back to 20th. He would rebound later and had a shot to win later in the going thanks to a two-tire pit stop. In the final laps of chaos however, he was shuffled back and finished sixth.
“I don’t know if we had the car to beat,” Larson said. “I thought early on in the race before all the rubber got laid down we were really good. In the middle part of the race, I didn’t think we were very good. And then there at the end, I got the top going really good. “
“Then I got that speeding penalty and set us back. We had to gamble there for that last stop and take two lefts and we hadn’t done that all day.
“I had to get to the top early and was just following Kevin (Harvick) hoping that he’d make a mistake because I knew I couldn’t go down to the bottom and get by him. So, I had to kind of ride. But, it was another good run for us; another top 10. I would have liked to have a top 5 but it was a good points day for us and we’ll go on to Richmond next and try to do better than we’ve done there in the past and extend our point lead there.”
Martin Truex Jr. became the car to beat as Larson fought back from his penalty. Truex would lead a total of 116 laps, but his speeding penalty came during stops on lap 261.
“Typically, we don’t get many speeding penalties for this team” Truex said. “But today we were just pushing the issue trying to get a win and sometimes they’ll get you.”
That seemingly left the door open for Kevin Harvick who stayed out during the round of stops, along with Denny Hamlin.
Johnson looked strong in the final third of the race, leading a total of 81 laps on the day.
But it was the final 22 that mattered most.
In a wild final lap run to the finish, Johnson and Logano fought for the lead with Johnson taking the point on lap 478 and taking command of the race. There was plenty of action behind, especially on the final lap, but no one had anything for Johnson who won by 1.19 seconds.
“I’m excited to win back-to-back races,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to win at Bristol. I guess we’ll be at Indy testing for the next two days and we’ll show up at Richmond and try again.”
Several big names suffered issues, including Brad Keselowski who suffered mechanical issues and finished 34th, 67 laps down. Kyle Busch lost a right front tire twice. The first coming on lap 210; he was able to continue and rallied back to seventh when he lost another right front on lap 383 and was done for the day finishing 35th.
“I was the fastest one out there those last two runs picking cars off and driving from the back to the front after we lost our track position the first time,” Busch said. “We had our issues and we were trying to march our way back up towards the front and get there and thought we were doing a good job of that and trying to be conservative with the tires because obviously they can’t make it through a full distance for us for some reason.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a bizarre incident on lap 218 when just prior to a restart his crew saw smoke coming from his Chevrolet. An oil tank had leaked putting oil on the tires; he ended up in the wall and out of the race scored 38th.
In all there were 9 caution flags and a red flag that came out on lap 54 after an incident involving Kurt Busch and Chris Buescher. Kurt spun, Buescher crashed when he hit the race of Reed Sorenson who slowed. Buescher finished the day in the garage. His damaged car left extensive moisture on the track however and NASCAR was forced to stop the race for just over five minutes.
Behind Larson in sixth, Chase Elliott was seventh, Truex rallied to eight, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top 10.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway Sunday for the Toyota Owners 400 at 2:00 p.m. ET.