Jimmie Johnson made a risky pit strategy pay off by winning the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. nosed out Kyle Busch for second while Kurt Busch was fourth and Carl Edwards finished fifth.
Kevin Harvick dominated the race, leading a race-high 131 laps. He held a commanding advantage with less than 40 laps remaining when Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus brought his driver in early to get four fresh tires.
Though the move put Johnson a lap down, he was able to get by Harvick to get back on the lead lap. When Harvick had a slow pit stop just a few laps later, Johnson had a 14-second lead with 30 laps remaining.
With the lead down to six seconds with three laps remaining, Ryan Newman blew a tire. The cars pitted and on the re-start, Johnson took the lead, while Harvick spun his tires and fell back.
Johnson took the checkered flag under yellow after a crash on the back stretch with less than two laps remaining. After the poor re-start, Harvick slipped to sixth.
“Definitely a gutsy call,” said Johnson about the Knaus strategy. “The four car (Harvick) was awfully tough and it was going to take some strategy to get by him. When he told me to whip it as hard as I could, I just felt it was going to take too much life out of the tires. But it worked.”
Johnson’s victory was the 76th of his career, tying him with the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. He fully appreciated the accomplishment.
“It is such an honor,” Johnson said in Victory Lane. “There was a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him. But at least I was able to tie his record.”
The order of finish of finish is here.
Next week, drivers head west for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.