It was Jimmie Johnson’s race to lose, and in the end that’s exactly what happened. In a race delayed 16 hours for rain, Johnson dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Quaker State 400 Sunday leading a race high 182 of the 267 laps only to see it all come apart with less than 20 laps to go.
In the end, Johnson blamed eventual winner Matt Kenseth claiming Kenseth for an error on the final restart, an error that cost Johnson the win. Brian Vickers was running tenth when he lost a right front tire and slammed hard into the outside wall at turn three bringing out the ninth and final caution of the day and setting up the final round of pit stops with 24 laps to go.
Kenseth took the lead on the final stop as his team elected to take fuel only while those behind him, including Johnson, took two tires despite the fact that his remaining tires had been on longer than the rest of the top ten; Johnson restarted second
As the field took the green flag Johnson seemed to hang back and as the field entered turn one he began to spin. While he was able to avoid contact, he was forced to pit for four tires, but his hopes for the win were over.
“I don’t know. We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there,” Johnson said.”And then we were like three and four wide going in the corner, then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. Unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) broke the pace car speed, which you aren’t supposed to, but, they aren’t calling guys on that so I need to start trying that in the future.”
Johnson may still be a bit gun shy when it comes to restarts. At Dover earlier in the month, Johnson was again the dominate car only to lose the race on the final restart. With less than 20 laps to go Juan Pablo Montoya held the top spot with Johnson second. When the green flag fell, Johnson pulled ahead of Montoya drawing a penalty from NASCAR that left him with a 17th place finish as the end of the day.
As for Sunday at Kentucky, Kenseth said Johnson was probably more frustrated than anything.
“Somebody mentioned in victory lane that he was upset with the restart,” Kenseth said. “I have no idea what happened or what happened to him or what I possibly could have done to upset him. When I got ready for the restart, we were on top and we were the leader, so it’s anywhere in that box we can start the race and when the pace car peeled off, I felt like I went the same pace. I didn’t check my tach when the pace car went off if we were exactly the same pace, but I think you can look through data and see I didn’t slow down.”
“Really at that point you try to watch the guy inside you and try to make sure he doesn’t lay back and try to get a run at you, and tried to keep him right by my door; and when I got to the box, I went. And from there, I don’t really know what happened.”
“I certainly didn’t feel like I did anything wrong from where I was,” he added. “But you know, after dominating all day and you have a problem at the end, it’s always — I imagine it’s frustrating. We’ve been there, too.”
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