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Turning right and left was on the agenda for Jimmie Johnson at the Toyota/SaveMart 350k Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The 1.99-mile road course has a high attrition rate, and keeping all four tires on the 10-turn course is a must.
Johnson did just that with his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, managing a ninth-place finish and maintaining his lead in the driver point standings. He is 25 points ahead of second-place Carl Edwards. It was Johnson’s seventh top-10 in 12 starts at Sonoma and his 10th top-10 in 16 races this season.
The race got off to an eventful start with a delay after a wreck on pit road as the field took the green. The first caution started on lap 7, but Johnson stayed out and climbed from his 19th starting spot to 13th by lap 20. Five laps later, he came down pit road during a caution for rain. Johnson complained of loose handling in the corners, and crew chief Chad Knaus made a trackbar adjustment to try and improve the Lowe’s Chevy’s performance. By the midway point of the 110-lap event, Johnson was running fifth.
The field was cycling through pit stops when a caution was displayed on lap 64. Five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson was in second place and came down pit road for four tires. Knaus brought him into the pits again before the race resumed and topped off the Lowe’s Chevrolet with fuel. On lap 83, Johnson made his final pit stop, taking left-side tires and fuel under caution and restarting 13th. He spent the rest of the race trying to gain positions while keeping his car underneath him, eventually finishing ninth.
“I’m happy we kept the points lead,” said Johnson, who won in 2010 at Sonoma. “I wish we could have contended for the win there at the end, but it’s always a good day when you come out with a top-10 finish at this track.”
Martin Truex Jr. won the Toyota/Save Mart 350k to score his second career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Sonoma.
Jeff Gordon finished 8.133 seconds behind Truex in the runner-up spot, while Edwards, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Johnson and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
With round 16 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent and the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 573 points give him a 25-point lead over second-place Edwards and a 128-point lead over 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Dale Earnhardt Jr. occupies seventh place with 479 points, 94 out of first and 34 ahead of 11th. Kahne is 11th with 445 points, 128 out of first and eight behind 10th. Gordon is 13th with 441 points, 132 out of first and 12 behind 10th.
There were seven caution periods for 19 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the 110-lap race.
Ten 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 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 Quaker State 400 Saturday, June 29 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.