Jimmie Johnson has tied Dale Earnhardt for wins after taking his 76th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory following an overtime shootout in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Johnson’s victory came after a gutsy call by the six-time champion’s crew chief Chad Knaus. With the No. 4 Chevrolet SS of Kevin Harvick out front on Lap 276, Knaus brought the No. 48 car in for fuel and four tires knowing Harvick would pit soon after. Nine laps later, Harvick pitted and Johnson assumed the lead with a large 13.631-second advantage over him.
“It was just a great team effort,” Johnson told NASCAR.com. “The No. 4 car was awfully tough and it was going to take some strategy to get by him. When he told me to whip it as hard as I could there, I just felt like I was going to take too much life out of the tires. But, it worked. And I got rolling around the top and got to where I got this Lowe’s Chevy in Victory Lane.”
With two laps left to go, Ryan Newman’s No. 31 Chevy blew a tire, sending the eight cars left on lead lap into the pits for tires. Johnson won the race off pit road, followed by Harvick in second and Kyle Busch in third. Upon the restart, Harvick spun the tires as he entered third gear and Johnson pulled away with Busch in tow. A wreck on the backstretch then brought the race to and end, with Johnson in first, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in second and Busch in third.
Following the win, Johnson took his No. 48 Chevy around the track counter-clockwise and gestured a number three to the crowd out the window as a sign of respect for Earnhardt. He later told NASCAR.com there is a “huge void,” in his career because he never got to race with The Intimidator but said he can take solace in the fact that he tied him for wins.
“It’s such an honor,” Johnson said of tying Earnhardt’s achievement. “With the chaos at the end and the crash and wondering about overtime and how it worked these days, I kind of lost sight of that.”