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Jimmie Johnson capped a busy week celebrating his Daytona 500 victory with a second-place finish Sunday in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Johnson, who started third in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports, wasn’t able to catch eventual winner Carl Edwards but held off a hard charge from Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin in the closing laps to earn his runner-up finish and maintain the points lead.
“I’m just very proud of this whole Hendrick team and everybody on this Lowe’s car and Chad Knaus (crew chief) and his leadership,” said Johnson who earned his 16th top-10 finish in 20 Sprint Cup starts at the 1-mile oval. “It was a tough year for everybody in our shop during the offseason. Everybody worked hard to get us ready. And to open like this with great qualifying efforts, great speed in the racecar and great pit stops. Across the board, I’m very proud of this Lowe’s team.”
Several cautions early in the 316-lap race put the field on different pit sequences. But by lap 100, Johnson was back in the top five. He reported tight handling with his Lowe’s Chevy, but crew chief Chad Knaus made minor adjustment throughout the race and employed two-tire calls throughout subsequent pit stops to keep Johnson up front.
After a pit stop on lap 190, Johnson took second place. He maintained that position until a caution with one lap to go, setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Fuel mileage was a concern for most of the leaders during the final caution. But Edwards held off Johnson on the restart to take the checkered flag, as Johnson withstood a hard charging Hamlin and Keselowski for second place.
Edwards broke a 70-race winless streak. His last victory came March 6, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Today’s win marked the 20th Sprint Cup victory of his career and his second at Phoenix.
Johnson finished 1.024 seconds behind Edwards, while Hamlin, reigning Sprint Cup champion Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 43 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 316-lap race, which was extended four laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With the second of 36 races complete, Johnson leads the Hendrick Motorsports stable in the championship point standings. He is first with 90 points, eight ahead of second-place Earnhardt, who has 82 points. Gordon is eighth with 60 points, 30 out of first, and Kasey Kahne is 31st with 33 points, 57 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday, March 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.