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5th in Talladega

Jimmie Johnson did something he wasn’t able to accomplish during the 2012 season -- finish a restrictor-plate race. In fact, it was Johnson’s second consecutive plate-race finish this year after winning the season opening Daytona 500. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Johnson kept the fenders on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS and finished fifth in the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, which was delayed more than three and a half hours by rain.

Johnson started eighth after qualifying was rained out and the grid was set based on Friday’s opening practice times, per the NASCAR rulebook. Johnson led twice for 16 laps en route to scoring his sixth top-five in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.66-mile oval. It was also his fifth top-five finish just 10 races into the 2013 season.

Johnson spent most of the first 125 of 192 laps in second place. He finally made his move to the lead on lap 117 as rain that eventually led to the long delay began to fall. But a few laps later, Carl Edwards was able to move to the point, putting Johnson in eighth as the race was red-flagged due to rain.

Once the race restarted, Johnson immediately pitted for right-side tires and fuel and maintained his position in the lead pack. He visited pit road for the final time on lap 167 for fuel only and worked his Lowe’s machine to the front again a few laps later where he remained through lap 182. After more back-and-forth racing for the lead in the ensuing laps, a multi-car accident brought out the caution on lap 184, just four laps shy of the scheduled distance. With daylight quickly fading due to the delays throughout the day, NASCAR called for one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish with Johnson in third. A mad dash to the lead ensued, with cars racing three-wide. Johnson held his own brought the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy home for a solid fifth-place finish, maintaining his lead in the championship points standings.

“Well, I thought that between the No. 99 (Edwards) and the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) and ourselves and the No. 51 (Regan Smith) that we would settle the race between us,” said Johnson, who has two wins at Talladega (April 2006 and 2011). “And then, the No. 34 (David Ragan) and the No. 38 (David Gilliland); I was racing the No. 38 earlier and he had plenty of speed, but they came up on us so fast that I could see Carl (Edwards) trying to block, and he finally said there’s no real way to block the speed that they’re bringing. Those two had blown by, and David had made it back to the checkered flag. So it’s really cool for that team. It was obviously a very good day for our Lowe’s Chevrolet. We had a very fast car, and I felt like we were a player all day long, and that’s awesome.”

David Ragan won the Aaron’s 499 to score his second career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Talladega.

David Gilliland finished .212 of a second behind Ragan in the runner-up spot, while Edwards, Michael Waltrip and Johnson rounded out the top-five. Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Scott Speed and Aric Almirola comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were five caution periods for 31 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 192-lap race, which was extended four laps by a green-white-checkered finish.

With round 10 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent as well as the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 383 points give him a 41-point lead over second-place Edwards. Dale Earnhardt Jr. occupies third place with 324 points, 59 out of first. He is followed by Kasey Kahne with 299 points, 84 out of first. Jeff Gordon is 14th with 269 points, 114 behind Johnson.

Sixteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Southern 500 Saturday, May 11 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The race starts at 6:45 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 6 p.m.

TAGS: Race News

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Jeff Gordon
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#48
Jimmie Johnson
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Martinsville
Started: 7th
Finished: 32nd
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