The script didn’t go according to plan for Jimmie Johnson — and for the No. 48 team, that’s becoming more commonplace this year.
Johnson had what appeared to be the dominant car once again at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday. But a late-race caution ignited by Brian Vickers slamming into the wall set the scene for a 21-lap shootout won by Matt Kenseth after the No. 20 team elected not to take tires in his final pit stop.
“The 20 should be penalized for (expletive) everybody on that (expletive) restart,” said Johnson, who slowed on the start in an effort not to pass Kenseth and was shuffled back from the front. As the field came around Turn 2, with Logano to the inside of the No. 48 Chevy, Johnson lost control of his car and went for a spin.
Following the race, the five-time champion still wasn’t sure what happened.
"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,”
Johnson restarted 25th and made a valiant effort to battle through traffic over the final 17 laps for a ninth-place finish. Although Kenseth earned a series-best fourth win, Johnson still maintains a 38-point lead over Carl Edwards, who finished 21st.
"The No. 20 (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 said.
It’s not the first time Johnson has been snookered on restarts. When Juan Pablo Montoya controlled the restart at Dover earlier this month, Johnson had led 143 of the final 194 laps of the Fed Ex 400 but was black-flagged after the final caution for beating the No. 42 Chevy to the start-finish line.
Jamie McMurray, who was eighth when Sunday’s race went green on Lap 247 and finished a season-high second, felt the restarts “were strange all day long” but didn’t believe it was any different than the others.
“I don’t know if it’s just the way the track is laid out, but I could see when the leaders would get to the first one, and it seemed like everything would stack up around that area,” McMurray said. “I don’t know if it’s because everybody was trying to anticipate it, but I could see when the leaders would get to the first one and it seemed like everything kind of would stack up around that area, but I don’t think that one stuck out, though.”
Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
Following the race, Kenseth said Johnson had no reason to fault him on the penultimate restart.
“I have no idea what happened or what happened to him or what I possibly could have done to upset him,” Kenseth said. “When I got ready for the restart, we were on top and we were the leader, so it’s anywhere in that (restart) 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 tack 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, but you know, after dominating all day and you have a problem at the end, I imagine it’s frustrating. We’ve been there, too."
Kenseth held the point to the finish for his fourth win of the season. Although the No. 20 team didn’t move in the point standings, Kenseth sliced 10 points off his deficit behind Johnson. He currently trails the No. 48 by 82 points.
ONE AT A TIME
Second-place Jamie McMurray posted his first top-five result of 2013 on Sunday.
McMurray, who scored a pair of sevenths earlier in the season, finally had lady luck on his side.
“I didn’t feel like we ran significantly better today than the past 10 or 12 weeks,” McMurray said. ”We were able to get the finish out of it. We didn’t have any flat tires or radiators break or people’s parts fall off the car and go through our radiator.
“It was a good day. Got a little unlucky on the last restart with the bottom line checking up, and then our car was just about as good as it had been all day on the last run.”
McMurray started 23rd, but was uncertain how the car was going to perform following Happy Hour on Friday. With rain cancelling the race on Saturday and teams being forced to race on a green track, Mac wasn’t sure what to expect.
“We’ve had really quick cars for the last two months, and have not been able to capitalize on it,” McMurray said. “We’ve had really unfortunate luck. But cool to have a really good run.
“I was quite a bit quicker than (Clint Bowyer), and I guess the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) wasn’t on (fresh) tires, so you are just fighting to get by as quick as you can because you never know when a caution is going to come out, or how it is going to play out."
For McMurray, it was his first top five since the Bristol race in August 2011. The effort elevated the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevy to 19th in the point standings.
Matt Kenseth’s incident with Jimmie Johnson wasn’t the only awkward moment for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on Sunday.
Coming out of the pits during the seventh caution, Kenseth pounded the back of fellow Camry driver Clint Bowyer coming down pit road.
“I just barely bumped him,” Kenseth said over the radio. “Just push him down pit road a little bit … to try to beat as many guys out as I could. It was nothing very hard.”
Kenseth and Bowyer both restarted in the top five on Lap 156, without incident. Bowyer, who finished third on Sunday, felt it was “just one of those (racing) deals.”
“I pulled out in front of him, and I was doing my job and he was doing his job,” Bowyer said. “He had a timing line, so he could accelerate a lot faster than I could. I was already at my pit road speed because I didn’t qualify good, and he qualified better.
“So he had a timing line to where he could speed up through mine and I was already at pit road speed. He could go a little bit quicker; and therefore, when I pulled out in front of him, he was able to still go faster. There was just a vehicle in front of him."
Although Bowyer remains third in the point standings, he’s narrowed second-place Carl Edwards’ advantage to just three markers.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson is looking at the big picture: @JimmieJohnson Man we were fast, on to Daytona. #6pack #Lowes48
4: Positions lost in the point standings by Brad Keselowski, who was caught in a multi-car wreck on Lap 48 and finished 33rd. It’s his fourth finish outside the top 30 this season.
19: Positions gained in the race by Carl Edwards during the pit stops on the seventh caution. But when the No. 99 dropped back, Edwards said he “had no grip in traffic” and finished 21st.
5: Wins by Matt Kenseth in the 2002 Cup season, a personal high. He has four so far this season.
When Clint Bowyer was asked the traditional post-race question, he had a quick reply while sitting next to Jamie McMurray:
“What happened? We run third,” Bowyer answered. “I was trying to block Jamie at the end and realized I’d better get the hell out of the way before I get myself wrecked. So I gladly pulled over and let him go. We didn’t need a caution right there — you (McMurray) probably did. He would’ve dumped me and I’d have shot to 20."
To which McMurray replied with a smile, “How do you know I didn’t try?”