Jimmie Johnson caps major rally at New Hampshire
July 14, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
LOUDON, N.H. -- It was the first time in Jimmie Johnson’s historic 12-year premier series career that the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion would start a race from the 43rd and very last spot on the grid.
But all that did was make his run up through the field Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway all the more dramatic.
On a track and in a race that puts passing at a high premium, Johnson overtook 37 cars to finish sixth and take his biggest championship lead of the season -- a hefty 56 points over second place Clint Bowyer -- heading into the off-week.
Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet was relegated to the last starting position after it failed post-qualifying inspection. Officials found the front of his Chevy too low -- a minor infraction according to his crew chief Chad Knaus, who immediately accepted responsibility for the oversight and promised the team would put it behind them and overcome.
That’s exactly what happened.
"We just had a hole to dig out of and we did a nice job of climbing out of it."
-- Jimmie Johnson
“We had a mistake that we made, that hurt us in qualifying,’’ Johnson said after climbing out of the car Sunday. “We knew we had a fast race car and proved that again on Saturday (in practice) and were very confident coming into today.
“We just had a hole to dig out of and we did a nice job of climbing out of it."
And Johnson wasted no time digging.
He passed seven cars in the opening four laps and cracked the top-20 -- an improvement of 23 positions -- by lap 50 of the 301-lap event. He broke into the top-10 by lap 165 and ran there the rest of the race picking off cars and avoiding accidents all around him.
“The cautions didn’t work out for us,’’ Johnson explained of having to improvise strategy. “We pitted on the second or third caution and the cautions didn’t fall right, after that for us to take advantage, which is fine.
“We just had to do it the old-fashioned way and drive up through there and pass a lot of cars and we were able to get pretty far up there.’’
It was enough to impress Knaus as well, although the veteran crew chief conceded he expected as much knowing how fast the car was. And how good Johnson is.
“We never got the track position we wanted to try to obtain,’’ Knaus said. “But Jimmie did a fantastic job and we made the best out of a bad situation and that’s really all you can do. That’s what we wanted to do, to make today a non-issue and that’s exactly what we did.
“We didn’t need to win, but we didn’t need to lose and we came out today with a solid finish, a solid day.’’
It was Johnson’s fifth top-10 in the last six races, which also included a pair of victories at Pocono and Daytona. And it was a strong message to the competition that even when faced with great adversity, this team still finds a way to get it done.
“All in all it was a great day for the Lowes’ team,’’ Johnson said. “I’m proud of the effort these guys put in, looking forward to the off-week and getting to Indy.
“It wasn’t easy at all. We just fought through the day."
And if Johnson couldn’t win, he was genuinely happy for the day’s victor, his long-time friend Brian Vickers.
“He’s been through a long road of challenges and made it through it all and I’m very proud of him,’’ Johnson said. “I’m heading over to victory lane to dump Gatorade on him."