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Expectations were high for drama and excitement during the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, and the race didn’t disappoint.
Under the lights of the .75-mile short track, drivers were beating and banging, bringing out a total of 11 cautions, including four in the final 75 laps. And while Lowe’s driver Jimmie Johnson was unfortunate enough to be caught in two of the late-race incidents, he escaped the chaos with a 12th-place result and extended his lead in the Sprint Cup Series point standings.
Johnson started the 400-lap race from the 26th position after a disappointing qualifying lap. But when the green flag waved Saturday night, Johnson followed his usual path and drove to the front. He had moved the white-and-blue Lowe’s Chevrolet SS into the top 10 within the first 100 laps and settled into fourth after a speedy pit stop by the Lowe’s crew during a Lap 111 caution.
While he mainly reported a snug racecar throughout the evening, Johnson never fell below seventh in his quest for the win until he and Tony Stewart made contact on Lap 327. Stewart quickly apologized for getting loose below the Lowe’s machine, and there was minimal damage to Johnson’s car. But after some repairs in the pits, Johnson lined up 27th for the restart, leaving plenty of cars in front to cause more trouble.
That’s exactly what happened just six laps later. Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin made contact on the backstretch, causing cars to scurry, scatter and collide. Johnson’s Chevy suffered damage on the front left side and again visited pit lane for repairs before lining up 25th for the restart. In the final 50 laps, Johnson avoided trouble during two cautions and survived a green-white-checkered finish, picking up 13 positions to cross the finish line 12th.
Disappointed by the finish after having such a strong car but knowing it could have turned out worse, spotter Earl Barban offered Johnson a “Good hustle” over the radio as he made his way to the garage. Crew chief Chad Knaus chimed in, “Good job today.”
Johnson extended his points lead to 43 over new second-place driver Carl Edwards. Johnson’s teammates Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are third and fourth, respectively, both 46 points behind.
Kevin Harvick won the Toyota Owners 400 to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Richmond.
Clint Bowyer finished .343 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five. Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Earnhardt comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 75 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 406-lap race, which was extended six laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Aaron’s 499 Sunday, May 5 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.