Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s team showed up to Pocono Raceway with something to prove.
After being penalized for jumping a restart the previous weekend in the 400-miler at Dover that cost the team a victory, Johnson was all business as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit hit Pocono’s quirky, 2.5-mile layout.
And that spelled bad news for everyone else, as Johnson laid waste to the field in the mountains of Pocono. Among the top two in speeds during each practice session, Johnson also sat on the pole when qualifying was rained out and, thus, had his choice of pit stall.
Not one to show strength early in the weekend only to fade late, Johnson dominated the Party in the Poconos 400 on Sunday, leading 128 of 160 laps en route to his third victory of the 2013 campaign. And in doing so, increased his lead in the championship point standings to 51 over second-place Carl Edwards — a full race-worth of a points advantage.
“That car had a ton of speed in it, and not only the car but I think our engine really had a chance to shine today, and the configuration here and the fact that we’re able to shift, our engine shop works really hard to make that power,” Johnson said. “Today it showed, and then at times when we needed to conserve fuel we could get that done, as well.
“I felt like it was a very well-rounded weekend for us — clearly with speed, (and with) that speed you need power, and then when we needed to back it down and save some fuel we could do that, too.”
Johnson, as he’s prone to do, understated the driver’s role in the victory — the 63rd of his illustrious career.
On four occasions inside of 40 laps to go, the driver was forced to hold off all-comers on restarts — which was his undoing at Dover. After starting second in that event, he beat race leader Juan Pablo Montoya to the line when Montoya lagged on the start.
Each driver had a different version of what happened, but Johnson was clearly still stewing about the victory-sapping penalty a week later.
“As racers, we need to work any and every angle we can,” Johnson said prior to Sunday’s race. “I think we need to put a little more weight in the officiating and how the rule reads and how it’s intended to be enforced.”
His restarts were spot-on at Pocono, though, as Johnson flawlessly fended off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, and others as the race wound down. His trump card being that, as the leader, he controlled the restarts.
“I wanted to prove a point and show everybody really what could happen in that restart zone than what happened to me last week, but I couldn’t do it to a teammate (Earnhardt),” Johnson said. “So I guess if things stay the way they do, I’ll save that for another day and prove my point even more.”
Riding a commanding lead in the standings and with a trio of valuable wins, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can now employ a strategy that led the duo to five consecutive Cup championships in 2006-10: Use the remainder of the regular season as a live-fire test session for the Chase.
Also, Johnson’s wife, Chandra, is expecting the couple’s second child, due in September — right about the time the 26-race regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
“If Chani goes into labor early, I don’t have to worry about Richmond, honestly,” Johnson said of the regular season finale. “That is what I’m working so hard for. I always work hard anyway, but it sure takes some pressure off if we lock early and don’t have to worry about Richmond.”
That could be further bad news for the competition, as Sunday proved that a motivated Jimmie Johnson can be the most dangerous force on the Sprint Cup circuit.