Monday, May 11, 2015

Johnson Follows Late Night Yellow Brick Road to Kansas Victory

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

After three weeks consisting of two short tracks and a 2.66-mile superspeedway, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to the intermediate-sized oval in the shape of Kansas Speedway. Despite the lengthy delay in the Saturday night race due to a downpour, the full 267-lap distance around the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway was accomplished in a thrilling conclusion.

The Spongebob Squarepants 400 was scheduled ahead of Mother's Day (traditionally a non-active Sunday for the Sprint Cup Series). A pre-Mother's Day race, the Kansas Speedway event was shaped by the intervention of mother nature. Due to an anticipated rainfall that ultimately drenched the Spongebob Squarepants 400, a 2-hour, 16-minute, red flag meant the race wrapped-up early Sunday morning. Not only did the rain lengthen the duration of the race Kansas, the interruption changed the complexion of the front-running group. 

For the third time this season on an intermediate distance oval track, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Lowes Chevrolet SS field by Hendrick Motorsports found their way to victory lane. Previously winning at Atlanta and Texas,  Johnson led 220 laps to win the previous two races. The SpongeBob Squarepants 400 was more of a case of opportune timing for the #48 bunch as they only needed to lead the final 10 laps thanks to a pit stop strategy that placed Jimmie Johnson and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the front row for a final sprint to the checkered flag after a lap 261 restart. In fact, prior to the red flag for rain, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. were struggling just to stay on the lead lap as Martin Truex Jr. was setting a blazing pace.


Photo Credit: Hendrick Motorsports



The Spongebob Squarepants 400 at Kansas Speedway started with Joey Logano's #22 Ford as pole sitter staying in first place for the opening 29 laps. Logano finished fifth at the end of the evening but was largely a non-factor for victory after a competition caution concluded. After stints that involved Stewart-Haas Racing cars Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in the top position, Martin Truex Jr. took the lead and led often throughout the Kansas race. As the race transpired, the relative underdog #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet SS performed with some serious gusto. Truex Jr. would lead on five different occasions for 95 laps (the most for any driver during the night's competition) and at one point battled fiercely with the hungry sophomore driver Kyle Larson and his #42 Chevy. Truex Jr. and the #78 team lost ground with the front in the late laps of the race through pit stops eventually finishing ninth in the event. Impressively though, Martin Truex Jr. sits in second place overall in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

The end of the Spongebob Squarepants 400 was decided in a dash where the Hendrick Motorsport cars were challenged by the #4 Chevrolet SS driven by Kevin Harvick. Despite the advantage of two tires in the late stage, Harvick's surge was slowed in his attempt to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second. After a brief dice, the #4 Chevrolet set sights on Johnson but came up 0.487 seconds short of winning.

Last week's winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving the Nationwide car held on to third place. Prior to the rain delay, Earnhardt was given a free pass after just going down a lap prior to a caution. In fourth place at the end of the Spongebob Squarepants 400, Jeff Gordon also elevated himself and his #24 car after a difficult first-half of the event.


Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images



Behind Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth brought his #20 Toyota across the line for a sixth place finish. Kenseth's run was the highest for a Joe Gibbs Racing team left with bittersweet results after Kansas. Driving the #18 M&M's Toyota in substitute for Kyle Busch, 18-year-old Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones was given his first official NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. This drive followed a circumstance earlier this year at the Bristol Motor Speedway race with Jones entered the #11 car to replace a Denny Hamlin who had been suffering neck discomfort. In his debut, Erik Jones put on an impressive show and even led a lap. His race ended on lap 197 when his #18 lost grip.

Contact on a restart with more than 50 laps to go damaged Denny Hamlin's #11 Toyota Camry. After pitting for a new tires, a component contacting with the car's right front wheel broke. Retiring from the race, Hamlin was critical of NASCAR for not displaying the yellow flag earlier. The #19 Joe Gibbs Racing car of Carl Edwards finished a lap down in 20th place. The bright news for Joe Gibbs Racing comes as it appears Kyle Busch will be returning to his #18 ride for the upcoming Sprint Cup festivities in Charlotte.

Next on the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar is the non-points Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night on May 16th.


NASCAR Sprint Cup

Spongebob Squarepants 400

Kansas Speedway

Race Results

Position Car # Driver Sponsor/Car Make
1 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet
2 4 Kevin Harvick Jimmy John's/Budweiser Chevrolet
3 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nationwide Chevrolet
4 24 Jeff Gordon American Red Cross Chevrolet
5 22 Joey Logano AAA Insurance Ford
6 20 Matt Kenseth Dollar General Toyota
7 2 Brad Keselowski Avaya Ford
8 41 Kurt Busch Haas Automation Chevrolet
9 78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet
10 31 Ryan Newman Quicken Loans Chevrolet
11 43 Aric Almirola Farmland Ford
12 16 Greg Biffle Cheez-It/SpongeBob SquarePants Ford
13 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet
14 47 AJ Allmendinger Dillon's/Scott Products Chevrolet
15 42 Kyle Larson Target Chevrolet
16 9 Sam Hornish Jr. Medallion Bank Ford
17 5 Kasey Kahne Great Clips Chevrolet
18 27 Paul Menard Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet
19 13 Casey Mears Squidward Tentacles Chevrolet
20 19 Carl Edwards Stanley Toyota
21 15 Clint Bowyer 5-Hour Energy Toyota
22 3 Austin Dillon Dow Chevrolet
23 46 Michael Annett Allstate Peterbilt Group Chevrolet
24 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Zest Ford
25 83 Matt DiBenedetto Burger King Toyota
26 33 Ty Dillon(i) Plankton Chevrolet
27 10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy Chevrolet
28 98 Josh Wise Phil Parsons Racing Ford
29 40 Landon Cassill(i) CarsforSale.com Chevrolet
30 51 Justin Allgaier Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet
31 6 Trevor Bayne AdvoCare Ford
32 38 David Gilliland MDS Ford
33 55 David Ragan SpongeBob SquarePants/Arn'sDrmMchn Toyota
34 34 Brett Moffitt # Dockside Logistics Ford
35 35 Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Ford
36 95 Michael McDowell WRL/Larry the Lobster Ford
37 23 JJ Yeley(i) Dr Pepper Toyota
38 32 Joey Gase(i) Tri State Tower Ford
39 14 Tony Stewart Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet
40 18 Erik Jones(i) M&M's Red Nose Day Toyota
41 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Freight Toyota
42 26 Jeb Burton # Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota
43 7 Alex Bowman Accell Construction Chevrolet

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