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For the third week in a row, Jimmie Johnson looked to be in contention for his first Sprint Cup Series win of the season. But a late-race pit road hiccup and the ensuing penalty was too much for the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to overcome, and Johnson crossed the finish line in sixth-place Saturday night in the Capital City 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Johnson, who started 27th, led once for one lap around the .75-mile oval track. He leaves Richmond with five top-five finishes and eight top-10 finishes in 21 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond and has led 415 laps.
Johnson began slowly moving forward when the green flag waved. He entered the top-10 on lap 89 and was up to sixth when a caution flag waved on lap 116. For the next 200 laps, Johnson ran consistently in the top-five. He led lap 310, picking up a bonus point before heading down pit road on 311 for a green-flag pit stop. As Johnson entered the pit lane, a yellow flag waved, trapping the Lowe’s Chevrolet on pit road.
Johnson continued to his pit stall, but some confusion on the routine stop resulted in a pit road penalty for an “uncontrolled tire” after the right-rear Goodyear was pushed, not rolled, to pit wall. Johnson had to restart the race at the tail end of the longest line, forcing him to line up behind many lapped cars. He restarted 15th on lap 318 and set his sights on the front of the pack.
By lap 350, Johnson was in ninth but needed more time to make his way to the leaders. He had advanced to sixth by lap 386, when the race’s final caution flag flew. Johnson came down pit road for four tires and fuel and restarted seventh. He was able to pick up one spot in the closing laps to finish the race sixth.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Johnson when asked if a win got away from the team. “We had a couple of little instances there. But stuff happens. It’s racing. Unfortunately we had a tire get away from us and had to serve that penalty and go to the back. But the good news is we had a very fast racecar. I guess last fall we were decent here; but this track has been real hit or miss. To have a car that strong and to pass that many cars all night long, I’m proud of the effort. I’m very thankful this Lowe’s car was that strong. I certainly wish we didn’t have that mistake. But when you’re in this deal long enough, mistakes happen, and I just hate it when it lands on your shoulders. I don’t want to beat anybody up.”
Kyle Busch won the Capital City 400 to score his 24th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fourth at Richmond. Busch has won four consecutive spring races at Richmond, breaking a tie with Richard Petty, who won three straight spring races at Richmond from 1971 through 1973.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 1.095 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 31 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
With nine of 36 races completed, Earnhardt continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports stable in the championship point standings. He is second with 333 points, five behind series leader Greg Biffle. Johnson moves up one spot to sixth in the standings with 314 points, 24 out of first. He is followed by Jeff Gordon in 17th with 221 points, 117 out of first, and Kahne in 23rd with 205 points, 133 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Aaron’s 499 on Sunday, May 6 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.