KANSAS CITY, Kan. — That’ll teach everyone to count out Jimmie Johnson.
The five-time defending Cup champion dominated Sunday at Kansas Speedway, weathering a series of late cautions and holding off Kasey Kahne to win for the first time since April.
Johnson stumbled through the first two races in NASCAR’s version of a postseason, and was 10th in the standings heading to Dover. A second-place finish last weekend gave Johnson confidence, and his first win since Talladega moved him into third in the Chase behind Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
“Jimmie was the car to beat all day,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished third.
Jeff Gordon made things interesting when his care blew up with three laps remaining.
Johnson chose not to pit before the green-white-checkered finish, but still managed to drive away from Kahne and Keselowski on worn out tires. Keselowski, who won the Nationwide race Saturday, still moved up to fourth in the Chase with six races left.
“It all comes back to having a good team,” Keselowski said. “Good teams have good cars, they’re the best at the end, the fastest at the end, they have good pit strategy and they’re strong through adversity, and I just have a really good team.”
Tony Stewart spent most of the afternoon trying to chase down Johnson, and at times appeared to have the car to do it. Stewart climbed 17 spots to sixth after about 50 laps, and at one point brashly told his team over the radio, “I’m in a hurry … I’ve got things to do.”
A series of mistakes near the end cost him, though.
Stewart chose to pit when Gordon brought out the final caution, but carried too much speed down pit road and slid through his stall. By the time his team backed him up and changed tires, Stewart had shuffled back to 17th and he crossed the finish line in 15th.
Stewart won the first two races of the Chase to vault into the points lead, but he struggled all weekend at Dover and finished 25th. He’ll now head to Charlotte eighth in the standings.
Edwards and Harvick came in tied for lead in the Chase, with the top nine drivers separated by a mere 19 points. Things shook out a bit Sunday, but Edwards and Harvick are still on top.
Edwards struggled with a tight car all afternoon, and his crew did everything from put round after round of wedge into the right rear to putting a shim in the left front. He dropped a lap down at one point, but got back on the lead lap after a caution and stormed to a fifth-place finish.
The Missouri native climbed out of his car and said he felt as if he’d won.
“There’s a lot that can happen in the next six races,” Edwards said. “There are so many moments that will still define this championship.”
Edwards leads the Chase by a point over Harvick, who finished sixth. Keselowski climbed two spots to fourth in the standings, Matt Kenseth is fifth after a fourth-place run, Kurt Busch dropped two spots to sixth and Kyle Busch is seventh after a top-10 finish.
There is still just 19 points separating the top eight drivers.
They’re all chasing Johnson.
The most dominant driver in NASCAR went to the front after a caution flag on Lap 21 and spent the rest of the afternoon cruising around the 1½-mile trioval. Stewart tried to chase him down, and a few other contenders tired to work fuel strategy to make up ground, but a series of late yellow flags took fuel mileage out of the equation.
Johnson passed Keselowski for the lead after a caution with 27 laps remaining, and then held off the field during the green-white-checkered finish. The victory broke a tie with Lee Petty and moved Johnson into a tie with Rusty Wallace for ninth on the career victories list with 55.