Late restart mars Johnson's dominant night
October 12, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Five-time champion led three times for 130 laps but wound up fourth
CONCORD, N.C. -- Jimmie Johnson admitted that he has thrown NASCAR officials "under the bus" in the past for what he said was a questionable debris caution "and it turned out that there was something there."
So the five-time champion chose his words carefully when asked if he felt a late yellow flag Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway was legitimate or questionably timed.
"Honestly I don't know what was seen or where it was," Johnson said after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. "… So I just have to watch myself, watch the video and see for myself."
Johnson didn't appear upset and he wasn't taking anyone to task for the call. Neither would alter the outcome.
Moments after rolling to a stop on pit road following his fourth-place finish, he was grinning when asked why fifth-place Kyle Busch stopped by to stick his head inside the driver's side window of the No. 48 Chevrolet.
"He said we should act like we were mad and fight so we could get some good controversy," Johnson said, laughing. "I said 'Sure, whatever.' "
He led three times for 130 laps, and sported a 1.3-second lead after 300 laps of the 334-lap race. A win seemed likely, the result of which would have pushed him past Matt Kenseth and into the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
The caution flag at Lap 308 slowed the field for only the fourth time and changed all that.
Even then, Johnson said he wasn't overly concerned. His car was strong and the race wasn't over.
"I got a great start and tried pushing the 5 (of Kahne) into Turn 1, ahead of the 24 (of Gordon)," he said. "I guess I was just too close behind him getting into the turn and my car washed up a little bit."
That opening proved pivotal. Kenseth, eventual race-winner Brad Keselowski and others pounced as Johnson slipped to seventh. With the laps clicking off the scoreboard, he began to climb back and with 15 laps remaining, was once again inside the top five.
"If we could have come out (of the pits) second … and started on the front row, I think it would have been a much better result for us," he said. "But it didn't happen. We led some laps tonight and had a good car.
"I'm not sure what happened in the points but I know it's awfully tight up there."
Kenseth, who managed to pick up a bonus point for leading one lap, now leads Johnson by four at the halfway point of the Chase. Kevin Harvick, sixth in the race, remains third and trails Kenseth by 29.
He was dominant but left one on the table. Although he has finished no worse than sixth in the five Chase races, Johnson has yet to wrestle the lead away from Kenseth and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team.
"It's not where you want to be," he said of the late-race turn of events. "Certainly need to watch the video to see what happened with the caution.
"To have a debris caution stop the race when you're out there controlling, have a good thing going, is awfully frustrating.
"We'll take fourth; it's not the end of the world but every point matters right now and I hate to see something like that shake things up."