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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, had a fortunate visit from Mother Nature on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. As rain began to fall at the 2-mile track, a puff of smoke trailed from the rear end of Johnson’s Chevrolet. Just as it seemed that Johnson would need to enter the pits to diagnose the problem, the rain intensified enough for NASCAR to wave the red flag and halt the race. Less than an hour later, the race was called with Johnson in 10th place.
Johnson started the race 10th and climbed a few spots in the opening laps. He reported a loose condition. Crew chief Chad Knaus and team then made a variety of small adjustments to help the car’s handling, putting Johnson into position to lead lap 70 during a green-flag pit stop cycle. Johnson pitted one lap later and restarted fifth.
Johnson remained in the top five until Knaus called him to pit road on lap 125 when the caution came out for rain. It was the first time the yellow flag had been displayed all race. Knaus called for four tires and made a slight track bar adjustment. As Johnson blended into the field, oil and a puff of smoke were seen flowing from the No. 48 machine.
The red flag was displayed on lap 129. NASCAR officials called the race shortly thereafter. Johnson led twice overall for two laps.
“We are not exactly sure,” Johnson said about the late problem. “Either a piece of debris hit an oil line and knocked the fitting off or split the line and snagged a line.
“We clipped an artery. Bottom line, it’s losing blood fast,” Johnson said with a laugh. “It’s either that or possibly an oil cooler. I really don’t know what had happened. I was just idling along and my friends pulled up alongside of me and were pointing. They said, ‘You’re smoking.’ I heard it over the radio and I could obviously see and smell it, but I don’t know what really caused it yet. It’s just a wild change of events because when I came to pit road and took four tires, I wanted it (track) to dry up real quick. Now I’m sitting here praying for rain. As I’m sending these signals to the man upstairs, he is really confused as to what I have been asking for in the last three or four minutes.”
Knaus said the team still was trying to determine what caused the oil leak.
“Something happened, and we developed an oil leak,” Knaus said. “But the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevy was running really well today. We were really happy with the performance. We got a little bit behind early to some of those guys on the long, green flag runs.
“But we were running respectable. We were running them back down. We definitely caught the third-place car and were gaining on them quite a bit. We definitely could have used a caution to have gotten back up in the mix. But the car was really good, and we were really pleased with it.”
Finishing behind Stewart was Kyle Busch in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Johnson comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Seven drivers failed to finish the 129-lap race.