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While the weekend started off less than ideal for Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS, he was able to rebound for a third-place finish. Sunday’s result in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. was Johnson’s fourth top-five finish in the 2013 season after just eight races.
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson started 21st, but changing track conditions and an ill-timed caution late in the race threw a wrench in his planned visit to victory lane. Johnson led once for nine laps, earning his sixth top-five and 12th top-10 in 14 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile Kansas oval. He leads the Sprint Cup standings by 37 points.
The finish was an improvement over the weekend’s practice sessions for the team.
“Yeah, Friday and Saturday weren’t fun,” said Johnson, who won in October 2008 and April 2011 at Kansas. “There wasn’t a lot of smiles around our group, but everybody worked real hard to get the cars right and we had a great race car today. At times I felt like I had a shot to win with my Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, and we just didn’t have enough for Matt (Kenseth) and Kasey (Kahne) there at the end, but a very solid performance for our Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS.”
Johnson didn’t waste time moving up from his 21st starting position. By lap 57 of 267 he was into the top-10. Crew chief Chad Knaus made several calls for just two tires and fuel throughout the race to keep Johnson in contention. By lap 147, the Kobalt Tools Chevy led the race, but Knaus called his driver down pit road for four tires and fuel on lap 155.
Johnson lost a few spots during an ensuing pit stop after a caution on lap 174 when several competitors stayed out. With 75 to go, Johnson reported his car was loose. But as the sun began to emerge from what had been a cloudy and cool day, the handling turned to the snug side for his Kobalt Tools Chevy. With few laps left in the event, Knaus and Johnson tried to adjust to the changing conditions. Johnson gave it a run in the closing laps but couldn’t catch eventual winner Matt Kenseth and second place Kasey Kahne.
“We had a vibration at the start of the race, and we had to come in and put four tires on, and we lost … well, we didn’t have the best starting spot to begin with, but we lost more time,” Johnson said. “But from there on, I drove right up through the field and got to the front, and at times felt like my Kobalt Tools Chevrolet was going to win. The last two runs, we were a little too tight. But other than that, a really strong performance with a car that drove through traffic, which is hard to do in today’s world of racing. So happy to be able to do that.”
Kenseth won the STP 400 to score his 26th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Kansas.
Kahne finished .150 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Mark Martin and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 40 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round eight of 36 complete, Johnson leads the Hendrick Motorsports stable in the championship point standings. He is first with 311 points, 37 ahead of teammate Kahne, who has 274 points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved to fifth with 263 points ,48 out of first, while Jeff Gordon is 15th with 202 points, 109 out of first and 38 behind 10th.
Eighteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 drivers in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday, April 27 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.