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Jimmie Johnson drove his No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS to a sixth-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Johnson started third and led three times for 66 laps en route to scoring his seventh top-10 in 12 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval. It also was his third straight top-10 finish this season, after a victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
“It was a strong performance for the Kobalt Tools Chevrolet,” said Johnson who has four wins (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010) at Las Vegas. “I wish we could have been in Victory Lane with our sponsor as the race sponsor.”
Johnson started the race with great track position and was never outside the top-five until the closing laps of the race. Crew chief Chad Knaus gave his driver all the tools he needed to maintain his track position, making slight trackbar and air pressure adjustments throughout the race to improve the handling of the Kobalt Tools Chevy.
Efficient work in the pits helped, as well. After a caution for oil on the track on lap 225, Johnson pitted and restarted the race third. A caution a few laps later for more cleanup bunched the field again. Johnson was battling up front but didn’t have enough to fight with the leaders, including eventual race winner Matt Kenseth and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.
“We were racing really hard,” said Johnson about running with Kahne. “It’s fun to race that fast. We were flying (laughs). But at the end, I just wish we had a little bit more to go up there and race with those guys. But it was a solid performance, all in all.”
Kenseth scored his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Las Vegas. Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday Sunday and became the third driver in Sprint Cup history to win on his birthday. Cale Yarborough accomplished it twice, while Kyle Busch did it once.
Kahne finished .594 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 25 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round three of 36 complete, Johnson leads the Hendrick Motorsports stable in the championship point standings. He is first with 129 points, 10 ahead of third-place Earnhardt, who has 119 points. Jeff Gordon is 13th with 79 points, 50 out of first, and Kahne is 14th with 77 points, 52 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Food City 500 Sunday, March 17 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.