Johnson, team on championship form
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- So many times in Chase races over the years, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy team have gone to Victory Lane because they outsmarted or outmaneuvered everyone else in some fashion -- pit strategy, tire decisions, car adjustments during the race, driver skill at the end, etc.
Not this time. They didn't need it. No genius strategic moves for crew chief Chad Knaus to get to the front. No magical adjustments in the final laps. No breathtaking passes by Johnson.
He ended his 21-race winless streak the old fashioned way -- with a car that had the field covered all day.
"Jimmie was gone," said Brad Keselowski, who finished third. "Noboby was gonna run with him today. That car was way better."
All of you out there who say you are tired of fuel-mileage races because the best car doesn't win, this was your day. The 48 was a George Jetson sky flyer against a bunch of Fred Flintstone foot pushers with rock wheels.
"That race car was on the money today," Johnson said. "Our pit stops were phenomenal. There are days when you have the strength across the board and you can control the race. We had that today and you have to capitalize on it."
When a caution flag came out with 62 laps to go, Johnson was 14 seconds ahead of the field. Three more yellow flags would fly, causing all kinds of strategic moves by teams trying to steal one from No. 48.
Not a chance. None of it mattered. Johnson had a machine that was as close to perfect as race cars get. He led 197 of 272 laps, including the green-white-checkered overtime laps at the end.
Johnson is one of the all-time greats, but his grandmother could have driven this car to a top-10.
Knaus was surprised because the car wasn't good in practice. Johnson started 19th.
"The car wasn't where it needed to be on Friday," Knaus said. "The wind was blowing [Saturday] and it was tough to figure out. We poured over a lot of data [Saturday night] and came up with some good solutions."
Good solutions? More like hitting the lottery.
Johnson won at Talladega in April, thanks to a push from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. But this was Johnson's first win at a non-restrictor plate track since Dover more than a year ago. He tied Rusty Wallace for career victories with 55.
Frankly, this one was easy. Unless the team made a careless mistake or fuel-mileage came into play, this car was going to win the race.
Kasey Kahne, who will become Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate in 2012, had fresher tires than Johnson at the end, but didn't come close to challenging JJ on the final restart.
"Jimmie took off before I expected and I spun tires some," said Kahne, who posted his second consecutive top-5 for the Red Bull team that's hoping to survive. "Jimmie used the whole track up in [Turn] 3 and I had no shot."
That race car was on the money today. Our pit stops were phenomenal. There are days when you have the strength across the board and you can control the race. We had that today and you have to capitalize on it.” -- Jimmie Johnson
Don't feel bad, Kasey. No one had a shot, including Tony Stewart. He had the second-best car Sunday, but it was no match for Johnson's. Stewart finished 15th after a bad decision to take four tires on his last stop.
Johnson had a dream car this time, and his team proved again to any remaining doubters that the 48 will contend for that sixth straight title.
The reason? The teams for Edwards and Harvick did what Johnson's team has done so well during his five-year reign as Cup champion. They made the most of a bad situation when their cars were junk most of the day.
Edwards finished fifth after running around 20th most of the afternoon in the No. 99 Ford. Harvick was furious on the radio midway through the race because his No. 29 Chevy was terrible. He finished sixth.
Edwards was the happiest fifth-place finisher you ever saw.
"I feel like I won,'' Edwards said. "That was an unbelievable comeback. I thought we'd be lucky to finish 20th. That's the most we've ever done with a car that wasn't capable of winning. It's spectacular."
Harvick also was happy again after the race, although it had to hurt a little to see Edwards pass him at the end and earn that one point to claim the top spot in the standings.
"Everybody for us did a good job today," Harvick said. "But I'm ready to get out of Kansas. It was eventful, to say the least. I'm outta here."
Feel good about it, Kevin. That's the kind of effort that leads to a Cup championship in the end, unless of course, Johnson has a race car that's faster than the Enterprise at warp speed.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE RACING HEADLINES
- Phoenix Racing hires B. Labonte for Daytona
- Dillon to drive Dale Sr.'s No. 3 in Sprint Cup
- Kahne, Stewart will honor Leffler at Chili Bowl
- NASCAR runs simulations to set 2014 rules