BRISTOL, Tennessee — Jimmie Johnson won his second consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway by claiming the Food City 500.
The win was the 82nd of Johnson’s Cup Series career, moving him to within one of Carl Yarborough, sixth on the all-time wins list and three away from Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, tied for fourth.
“That’s just mind-blowing,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be here without Mr. [Rick] Hendrick’s [car owner’s] support. Thanks to him and to Jeff Gordon for believing in me.
“For Hendrick Motorsports to make this job kind of a family environment for all of us to thrive in has been a perfect environment for me and Chad Knaus [crew chief] and for the consistent group of guys behind me through all these years has led to the environment to win 82 races, or whatever it is, which is just insane. I’m truly humbled. I’m excited to win back-to-back races. I’m excited to win at Bristol.”
But the win was only Johnson’s second at Bristol.
“This track has been really difficult for me over the years,” Johnson said. “To be able to find what we did Saturday afternoon [in practice], it’s honestly what I’ve been looking for for 16 years up here. Really, 18 years when I look at my two years in Xfinity, but huge credit to Mr. Hendrick and the environment and the place he lets us work.”
The race was originally scheduled for a Sunday green flag, but rain pushed the start to Monday.
Clint Bowyer passed Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick with 16 laps to go to take runner-up honors. Harvick finished third, Matt Kenseth was fourth and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.
Johnson took the lead from Logano with 107 laps remaining in the 500-lap race and led most of the remaining distance.
Before Logano had taken the lead by getting off pit road first during a caution with 177 laps to go, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. had combined to lead most of the race. Both, however, were assessed pit-road speeding penalties in the last 100 laps.
“I don’t know if we had the car to beat,” Larson said. “I thought early on in the race, before all the rubber got laid down, we were really good. In the middle part of the race, I didn’t think we were very good. And then, there at the end, I got the top going really good, so and then, I got that speeding penalty and set us back.”
Larson was hit with a penalty during a caution with 80 laps to go, but he got back near the front with a two-tire stop during the final caution with 39 remaining. He drifted back to sixth by the checkered flag.
“It was another good run for us, another top-10,” Larson said. “I would have liked to have a top-five, but it was a good points day for us, and we’ll go on to Richmond next and try to do better than we’ve done there in the past and extend our points lead there.”
During that final caution, Truex was slapped with his penalty and got back up to eighth by the finish.
Harvick and Denny Hamlin stayed out during the final yellow flag to restart on the front row.
While Harvick was able to maintain his lead for a few laps, Hamlin quickly gave way to Johnson and Larson on a battle for second. Johnson cleared Larson and got by Harvick to take his final lead of the race with 21 laps to go.
“We had to gamble, there, for that last stop and take two lefts, and we hadn’t done that all day,” Larson said. “The balance, honestly, wasn’t that bad with our Credit One Bank Chevy on two tires. Four tires just had a little more grip around the bottom for a little bit longer than we did. And I had to get to the top early and was just following Kevin (Harvick), hoping that he’d made a mistake, because I knew I couldn’t go down to the bottom and get by him. So I had to kind of ride.”
Larson dominated early by leading the first 202 laps, and in the process took the stage one win. Logano battled Larson for the top spot in lapped traffic around lap 180 but failed, winding up losing second to Truex.
Once Truex got by Logano for second, he was more successful than his predecessor at surpassing Larson for the lead. Truex became the first race leader, other than Larson, on lap 203.
Larson was back to third by a caution on lap 210 when Kyle Busch hit the wall because of a right-front tire issue. He lost more spots by the time the yellow flag waved on the restart when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall after driving through fluid put down by his own car because of an oil-cooler issue.
Truex was still up front at the halfway point of the race that marked the end of the second stage. By that point, Larson was seventh in the running order.
Landon Cassill stayed out and Hamlin took only two tires during the caution after the conclusion of stage two, and as a result, restarted the race on the front row. Logano also got off pit road ahead of Truex, shuffling Truex back to fourth for the restart.
Truex reclaimed his lead when the race returned to green. Larson got back up to second on lap 284, but gave positions gained back up to Logano, Harvick and Johnson a few laps later.
Other top-10 finishers included Chase Elliott in seventh, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in ninth and Hamlin in 10th.
NOTES: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars Erik Jones, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney were impressive in the Saturday NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Jones was the race winner and leader of 29 laps, Larson was the dominant driver in the race by leading 180 laps and Blaney led 61 laps and finished second. … A VHT resin was added to the bottom groove of the race track heading into the Bristol race weekend to entice drivers to race the bottom line, but rain at the track throughout the weekend affected the resin, so it was reapplied Monday morning. … Teams were given an extra set of tires, and since qualifying was rained out Friday, cars started the race with new tires and have eight additional sets. … Chris Buescher started the race in the back in a back-up car because of a crash in practice. He crashed again early in the race. … Carl Edwards, who isn’t racing in 2017, was the winner of last year’s Food City 500. Kevin Harvick won the most recent Cup Series race at Bristol last August. … Brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch are tied for most Bristol wins among active drivers with five apiece, but both crashed out of Monday’s race. They’re tied with Jeff Gordon and David Pearson for fifth on the all-time Bristol wins list.