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Jimmie Johnson dominated the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, starting third and leading a race-high 182 of 267 laps in the No. 48 Lowe’s “Dover White” Chevrolet. But a late-race restart foiled his shot at a win when he spun in heavy traffic in Turn 1 just after green-flag racing resumed. Johnson managed to save the car, come down pit road for four tires and make up 16 spots in the last 16 laps to finish ninth.
Johnson wasted little time in assuming the lead after starting third. On lap 43, he led for the first of three times during the event. Crew chief Chad Knaus kept fine-tuning the No. 48 Lowe’s machine throughout the race, which was delayed a day by rain. Knaus called for two tires several times throughout the event, including what was supposed to be Johnson’s final stop on lap 243.
On that stop, Matt Kenseth beat Johnson down pit road by taking fuel only. Johnson, on two tires, lined up second, the first car on the inside lane. As Kenseth attempted to restart the race, Johnson waited to go. As a result, Johnson found himself in a four-way battle for second spot with Joey Logano on his outside. The close proximity removed the air from Johnson’s spoiler, causing him to spin. He saved the car and while under caution again, came down pit road for four tires. He restarted 25th with 16 laps to go and made up the same number of spots to finish ninth.
A win would have reduced the number of tracks where Johnson has yet to claim a victory. Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Homestead-Miami Speedway are the others. Still, the result was Johnson’s 11th top-10 finish in 17 races this season.
“I don't know (what happened on the restart),” said Johnson, who has finished in the top-10 in each of the three Sprint Cup races at Kentucky. “We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there. And then we were like three- and four-wide going in the corner. Then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. Unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish. The No. 20 (Kenseth) broke the pace car speed, which you aren't supposed to, but they aren't calling guys on that, so I need to start trying that in the future.”
Kenseth won the Quaker State 400, scoring his 28th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his first at Kentucky.
Jamie McMurray finished .699 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Clint Bowyer, Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 42 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round 17 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent and the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 610 points give him a 38-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards and a 132-point lead over 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Dale Earnhardt Jr. occupies sixth with 512 points, 98 out of first and 34 ahead of 11th. Kahne is 11th with 478 points, 132 out of first and one point behind 10th. Gordon is 13th with 477 points, 133 out of first and two points behind 10th.
Nine 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 400-mile event on Saturday, July 6 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.