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Jimmie Johnson brought home a top-10 finish at the fender-bending Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, staying out of trouble to place ninth in the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet Impala for Hendrick Motorsports in the Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday. After starting 22nd, Johnson didn’t lead any laps yet still put himself in position to come home with a good result at the unforgiving .533-mile oval.
“We had a tough qualifying effort, a tough practice, but had a competitive car,” said Johnson, who has 12 top-finishes in 21 starts at Bristol. “I think we had a top-five car. I don’t think we had anything for the win, but we got stuck on the inside lane there. The No. 16 had some trouble getting going, and we lost a few spots. Otherwise, I think we would have been right there around fifth or sixth. Not a bad day. We had a great day on pit road. We improved a ton over the weekend and had a competitive racecar today, and we will go on with this ninth-place finish.”
Johnson had moved up to 12th when the caution flew, and he pitted for the first time. Johnson reported that he needed more front grip in the center of the turns. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for two tires while trying to help Johnson’s grip issues. Several cars stayed out, putting Johnson in 17th place to restart.
Johnson later came down pit road again after a caution on lap 115 because he reported he ran over sheet metal. Knaus sent him down pit road for four tires. The stop was quick, and he restarted 12th.
Johnson managed to stay out of trouble through most of the remaining laps, including several other on-track incidents. On lap 340, he pitted to take four tires, exiting the pits in eighth.
Johnson reported having trouble in traffic, but he held on to his top-10 run. He restarted eighth after an incident involving Jeff Gordon and maintained that position on lap 417. Johnson came in for four tires with less than 15 laps to go, while some drivers took two tires. Johnson restarted ninth and ended his run in that spot.
Hendrick Motorsports had an up-and-down day. Johnson was the top finishing driver for the organization in ninth place. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was next with a 15th-place finish. Gordon had on-track contact and finished 35th. Kasey Kahne finished 37th.
Brad Keselowski’s victory in the Food City 500 was the fifth of his Sprint Cup career, his first of the season and his second consecutive victory at Bristol.
Matt Kenseth finished .714 of a second behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Johnson and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 49 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, March 25 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.