The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ second race of the 2016 season was one to remember, as Jimmie Johnson took home the checkered flag at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Early in the going, it did not look as though Kyle Busch was having a good day. Although he qualified on the pole position, Busch was relegated to the rear of the 39-car field for the start of the race, as his brother, Kurt, started the race in the number one position and dominated the early portion of the race. Early on, Ryan Newman settled into second place, as several positions changed hands quickly.
Kevin Harvick appeared to have the upper hand as the race wore on with the longest opening green-flag run in any Atlanta race since the track opened in 1960. During this time, Harvick continued to dominate, although he relinquished the top spot to Johnson on Lap 185.
Johnson then gave up the lead to Kyle Busch for one lap before Harvick regained control of the number-one position. It was not until after the 200-lap mark that debris on the backstretch slowed the field for the first caution period of the day and brought another round of critical pit stops.
On the restart, Harvick continued to lead the race, showing the dominance that had manifested itself in previous Atlanta races. Despite his dominance at the 1.54-mile quad-oval track, Harvick had failed to win at AMS since March 11, 2001, when he narrowly defeated Jeff Gordon in a photo finish just weeks after his predecessor Dale Earnhardt Sr. was fatally injured on the final lap of that year’s Daytona 500. Martin Truex Jr., however, would not relent, continuing to cut into Harvick’s lead and even taking over the top spot a number of times in a heated battle with approximately 65 laps remaining.
Late in the race, although Harvick continued to lead, a gutsy pit call by Johnson’s team had catapulted the six-time champion into the catbird seat with fewer than 40 laps remaining. As the race neared its conclusion, Newman, who had started near the front, lost control of his No. 31 Chevrolet and slammed the car into the wall to bring out caution flag number two. With only three laps remaining in the race, Johnson’s lead over Kevin Harvick was erased significantly, changing the entire outlook of the event for several drivers. The late caution set up NASCAR’s version of overtime, in an attempt to preserve the chance of a green-flag finish. Johnson led the field at the restart, as several drivers jockeyed for all-important top five and top 10 positions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had started 16th in the event, moved into third and nosed out Kyle Busch for second, as the caution came out for a crash involving the No. 43 Ford of Aric Almirola and the No. 23 driven by David Ragan. Several other drivers received damage in the melee, as well. Johnson drove around the track at reduced speed to secure the victory, his second consecutive Atlanta win and the 76th of his career, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s career total. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. finished first and second, respectively
The win catapulted Johnson ever closer to racing immortality, as he can break the tie with Earnhardt when the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion – who has one fewer title than the seven-time champions, Earnhardt and all-time NASCAR win leader Richard Petty – scores his 77th victory in the Cup Series.