NASCAR Cup: Jimmie Johnson wins at Texas
Jimmie Johnson celebrates in victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway after winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on April 9, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
After finishing in the top-10 only once in the first six races of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, reigning and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson claimed his first win of the year, and the first for Hendrick Motorsports in 2017, Saturday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” Johnson said. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a rough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse. and we were able to execute all day. Thanks to everybody at Lowe’s and Chevy and the fans and a ton of sponsors. It was hot in there. I got cooked in the car today. I didn’t have any fluids so I’m not feeling the best, but we got into victory lane. I’m so proud of the fight in this race team. I can’t wait to celebrate during this off-weekend with my family and friends and really enjoy this.”
Johnson had a problem with his in-car drink-delivery system, and after the race, he was taken to the infield care center where he received three bags on IV solution.
The win was Johnson’s seventh at TMS, the most of any active driver.
Kyle Larson finished second, and Joey Logano was third.
Both Johnson and Larson posted their top-two finishes after starting the race in the back. Johnson started in the back after spinning in qualifying on Friday and starting the race on new tires. Larson started in the back after failing to make a qualifying attempt because his car was one of nine that failed to get through pre-qualifying inspection in time to make an attempt in the first round.
Larson got into the top-10 by lap 25, but when a competition caution came on lap 30, Larson was hit with a penalty after driving through too many pit stalls.
“Our Credit One Bank Chevy was good from the start, was able to pass a lot of cars, there, in the beginning,” Larson said. “Got a pit road penalty. I clipped too many boxes, there, and then, came from the back and passed a lot of cars again. Just felt we passed cars a lot. All in all, a good day. You never know. I felt like, maybe, if I didn’t have that pit road penalty early in the race, I could have gotten to the lead that run with how good we were and maybe controlled the race from there. Just a little mistake on my part, and we’ve got to clean that up a little bit, and maybe, we will win some more of these.”
Logano took the lead through pit strategy around lap 300 of the 334-lap race. He stretched his fuel mileage to pit last during two green-flag cycles of stops during the third stage. He was the last to stop just before the eighth and final caution of the race on lap 299, and still having relatively new tires, he stayed out during the yellow when everyone else pitted.
“That is Todd’s (Gordon, crew chief) top-three, there,” Logano said. “He did a good job giving us a shot to win. I tried to hold off the 48 (Johnson); he was just faster. There is nothing to say besides that I was in the clean and had the clean air, and he was still faster behind me. Once he passed me, my car kind of came to me a little bit, and I was able to run him back down a little bit. If he had made a mistake, I was going to be there.”
Despite slightly older tires, Logano was able to remain up front until Johnson got by him with 16 laps remaining. Larson then passed him for second with two laps remaining.
Ryan Blaney dominated the first half of the race, winning the first two stages and leading a race-high 148 laps. He took his first lead when he got by Kevin Harvick on lap 15. Pit strategy at the end of the second 85-lap stage, though, put him back in the 20th position.
“If you had asked me yesterday, I wouldn’t have said we would win two stages and have one of the fastest cars,” Blaney said. “They made really good changes this morning, and that definitely says a lot. I am excited to get to Bristol in a couple weeks and see what we can do.”
The yellow flag waved in the closing laps of the stage, and with six laps remaining in the second stage, most cars headed for pit road. But Blaney and six other cars remained on the race track to finish the stage up front. Those who pitted with six laps remaining in the stage stayed out when the stage ended, while Blaney and others who had stayed out earlier pitted.
The strategy put Harvick and Martin Truex up front at the beginning of the third stage. The two combined to lead most of the stage until Logano’s strategy to get to the front. Both Harvick and Truex were in the top-10 at the finish. Harvick finished fourth and Truex was eighth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five after starting in the back because of pre-qualifying inspection issues on Friday. Other top-10 finishers included Brad Keselowski in sixth, Jamie McMurray in seventh, Chase Elliott ninth and Kurt Busch in 10th.