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The wheat was waving in Kansas as windy conditions prevailed Sunday for the second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, stayed the course, finishing third in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Johnson, who started 15th, led once for two laps around the 1.5-mile oval. He has five top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in 12 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas and has led 503 laps.
Johnson’s specially themed No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy featured a new primary color for the race. Mountain Green, a color only available on Chevrolet cars (except the Corvette) in 1967, ran with this year’s familiar muscle car stripes. And the Lowe’s Chevy certainly looked like it had the strength to make it to Victory Lane.
Johnson wasted little time moving up from the 15th starting spot. By lap 15, he was inside the top 10. He reported a tight-handling racecar early in the race. But crew chief Chad Knaus made several adjustments during the ensuing pit stops, and on lap 92 Johnson led for the only time during the race. He maintained his spot within the top five for most of the race.
But on lap 187, Johnson lost his spot among the front-runners when Knaus called him to the pits for four tires. Some of the field joined him, while others stayed on track. Johnson restarted in 12th, with the first eight cars in front of him on old tires, and three cars directly in front of him on two fresh tires. With Johnson the first car on four fresh tires, he climbed to sixth just six laps later. On lap 211, the Lowe’s machine regained the third spot.
Johnson spent the remainder of the race trying to muscle his way back to the front but wasn’t able battle with Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. for the lead in the closing laps.
“We had good speed and we could run second and third all day long, but to catch the 56 we needed more and we worked real hard through the middle part of the race,” said Johnson, who has two Sprint Cup wins at Kansas (September 2008 and October 2011). “We got a lot of speed, and I could get to him; I just couldn’t pass him. I was hoping we could do it on pit road or some other scenario, but we came in when a lot of those guys stayed out, which was strategy on our point to do something different. I don’t think it hurt us any. Maybe cost us a spot, but I don’t think that is the case because the 11 went up there and passed the 56 and won the race. So a great day, and we ran where we should. We just needed a little more for the win.”
Hamlin won the STP 400 to score his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Kansas.
Truex finished .700 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were three caution periods for 18 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round eight of 36 complete, Earnhardt leads the Hendrick Motorsports contingent in the championship point standings. He is fourth with 291 points, 21 behind series leader Biffle. Johnson is next for the organization in seventh with 275 points, 37 out of first. He is followed by Jeff Gordon in 18th with 200 points, 112 out of first, and Kahne in 26th with 166 points, 146 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Richmond 400 on Saturday, April 28 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.