By AMANDA VINCENT
After a two-hour, 16-minute rain-induced red flag that interrupted the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speeway near Kansas City, Kan., extended the race from its Saturday night start to a finish in the wee minutes of Sunday morning, Jimmie Johnson celebrated his third win of the 2015 Sprint Cup season.
Johnson took the lead by staying out during the ninth and final caution of the race on lap 255 and maintained the top spot after a restart with six laps to go for the win.
“I could tell he (crew chief Chad Knaus) was having a hard time making the decision (to stay out or pit),” Johnson said. “I’m kind of running through the events in my mind. We have two wins; we are locked in the Chase, and we are here to win a race. Let’s gamble; let’s go for it. Sure enough, it paid off.”
Kevin Harvick restarted sixth with two new tires and drove up to second right after the restart to take runner-up honors.
“Just racing hard there at the end,” Harvick said. “We had a lot of speed. The guys did a great job of adjusting on the car. Just didn’t have enough laps.”
Three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top-five. Joining Johnson there was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in third and Jeff Gordon in fourth. Joey Logano overcame two pit road penalties, one for a crew member going over the wall too soon and another when Logano pitted before pit road opened, to finish fifth.
Johnson’s race weekend and race, for that matter, got off to a slow start. He started the race in the back of the top-20 and dropped back to 23rd before spinning early in the race. The spin cost him several more spots.
“I guess the No. 88 (Earnhardt) got close behind me and just him being that close took the air off my spoiler and the car just turned sideways,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was fine catching it, but a lot of times you will over-correct and turn it back into the outside wall. Somehow I didn’t do that, so I was very happy to have my dirt background and keep that thing straight and going in the right direction.”
Logano started the race on the pole and led the first 29 laps before he was overtaken by Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Harvick and Kurt Busch. Harvick and Busch both led laps before Martin Truex Jr. took the top spot by lap 57 and ran up front until the red flag for rain on lap 98.
The race was already the third yellow flag of the race for a single-car incident involving Jeb Burton when the rains came. Truex had already led 38 laps to that point and was the race leader when the race resumed.
Brad Keselowski took the lead after staying out on the race track during the first two cautions after race resumption. As a result, he had to pit for fuel under green on lap 164. He went a lap down but his time off the lead lap was short-lived, as his move to pit road prompted other drivers to short-pit a few laps later, putting everyone back on the same pit sequence.
Carl Edwards led laps and Truex returned to the lead before Harvick took the top spot on a restart following a lap 207 caution. Harvick remained up front until Johnson’s pit strategy put him up front.
Matt Kenseth finished sixth, Keselowski was seventh, Busch eighth, and Truex was ninth after leading a race-high 95 laps. Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10.
“Definitely not the finish we wanted, obviously, but proud of the guys for the weekend we had, just had good speed all weekend, brought a brand new car here and just proud of that,” Truex said. “It’s kind of disappointing, but at the same time proud of the way we ran, and I think it’s something we can build off of.”
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