Jimmie Johnson’s chance at Sonoma win dashed by final caution
Seemingly on cruise control and sailing toward his fifth win of the season and second ever victory on a road course, Jimmie Johnson needed the final laps of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway to play out under green.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the rear axle on the car of his good friend Casey Mears had other plans.
When the part on Mears’ No. 13 Chevy broke, sending one of his wheels flying loose into a barrier, Johnson’s healthy advantage over second place was wiped out as the caution flag waved on Lap 100 of 110.
Hoping that track position would reign supreme in the end, Johnson’s team led by crew chief Chad Knaus elected to leave the No. 48 car on the track under yellow while everyone except four others came to pit road for fresh tires.
When the green flag waved again with seven laps remaining, Kyle Busch needed only two laps to go from seventh to first on his newer tires.
Johnson, meanwhile, began a rapid fade, falling all the way to sixth at the checkered flag as four others on fresh rubber moved ahead.
In the end, not pitting proved to be the wrong decision, but Johnson didn’t blame Knaus — the man responsible for guiding him to all six of his Sprint Cup Series titles — for leaving him out and hoping for the best.
"I saw there were a bunch of cars between myself and the first guy on (new) tires," Johnson said. "I felt pretty good about things. And then after about a lap and a half, I wasn’t feeling so good about things. They were there quickly. But if we came back tomorrow, we’d still run the same strategy. We played it perfectly."
With a series-high four wins, Johnson is locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so his Hendrick Motorsports team could afford to gamble on older tires when others such as race winner Busch couldn’t.
"This situation we’re in with the wins and being locked in the Chase, we wanted to come out and be aggressive with our strategy," said Johnson, a native of El Cajon, Calif.
Overall, it was still an impressive afternoon for Johnson, who isn’t known for his road-racing skills but led a race-high 45 laps in his home state.
"Tires were definitely the call, but we had a strategy that we were going to stick to," Johnson said. "We were one caution away from it working out just right."
VIDEO: Jimmie Johnson talks about the late caution that foiled his No. 48 team’s strategy at Sonoma