Some races will always stand out in the career of a Sprint Cup driver, and Sunday at Bristol was one such race for four-time defending champion Jimmy Johnson.
Bristol has always been a tough track for Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, as the two had made 16 previous trips to the world’s fastest half-mile track before making their first visit to victory lane on Sunday.
The win was also the 50th of his career, tying him for 10th place on the all-time list with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. Johnson is a member of the first-ever class to be enshrined in NASCAR’s new Hall of Fame that will open in its doors at Charlotte in May. Jarrett was also on the ballot for enshrinement, which furthers shows just what an accomplishment it is to win 50 races in your Sprint Cup career.
Johnson captured his 50th win in his 296th start, which gives him a winning percentage of 16.892. That is good enough to be fourth on the all-time list, trailing only Herb Thomas in first with an winning percentage of 21.053, followed by Tim Flock’s 20.856 and David Pearson’s 18.293.
There is a great chance that Johnson may even bump that number up a little more this coming weekend at Martinsville. Johnson has six wins at the Virginia track including last spring’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500.
With the Bristol win, Michigan, Infineon, Chicago, Watkins Glen and Homestead are the only tracks where Johnson has yet to take a checkered flag. Standing out on that list are the two road course races at Infineon and Watkins Glen. He has visited both of those tracks eight times, but still hasn’t put a road course victory on his hall of fame-type resume.
That couldn’t be good news for the rest of the series as Johnson and Knaus are notorious for making “their” list of things they want to accomplish — Bristol being the latest item to be checked off . You have to think that Johnson’s entire team will really be focused when it is time to unload the haulers at Infi neon in June and Watkins Glen in August as they try to check another item of their list that no doubt includes a road course victory.
Kurt Busch led 278 laps on Sunday at Bristol, the most in the race and most ever led in a cup race at Bristol. Unfortunately for Busch, the leader of the most laps has won just one of the past nine races at the track. Busch was visibly upset and angry after the race as he threw a water bottle and stated the obvious, that even though Busch had the best car Johnson was able to grab the win. Busch was the unlucky victim of a late race caution that found him starting on the inside when the green flag waved while Johnson was restarting on the much-preferred outside lane.
Kevin Harvick sits on top of the points with a slim one-point lead over Matt Kenseth. Johnson sits in third, 14 points out of the lead. If you are looking ahead to the Chase, Johnson leads all drivers with 30 bonus points for winning three of the first five races of the season. Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch each have 10 after posting one win each. A win by Busch on Sunday would have tied the two with 20 points apiece, which could have been one reason why the loss was so painful.
Consistency still pays off in the points chase as Kenseth in second and Greg Biffle in fourth are the only two drivers in the series to score five top-10 finishes in the first five races of the season.
Martinsville will be the first race of the season that will use this season’s owner’s points to guarantee a starting spot for the first 35 owners. Entering this week, Front Row Motorsports’ Kevin Conway in 35th holds a slim 9-point lead over 36th place driver Robbie Gordon. Two drivers that did not finish in the top-35 last season but are now guaranteed a starting spot by being in the top-35 this week are Scott Speed at No. 18 and Bobby Labonte in 29th place.
Goody’s Fast Relief 500
Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns).
March 28, 1 p.m. TV:
MRN Defending Champion: