Jimmie Johnson didn’t have enough to take down Carl Edwards in the green-white-checkered finish today at Phoenix International Raceway, but he still sits atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.
The five-time Cup champion followed up his Daytona 500 win last weekend with a second-place finish that saw him and Denny Hamlin go side-by-side to the checkered flag for the position; Johnson narrowly got the spot by 12 one-hundredths of a second but not before Hamlin had gone through the backstretch apron on the final lap to battle him and Brad Keselowski (who finished fourth).
“I thought we were going to enter three-wide and I was going to be in the worse spot,” Johnson said of the situation. “The clean line turns away from me, so I was looking out my window and I could see a lot of [Hamlin] and I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure really what’s gonna happen here — sure not gonna let off.'”
“[Keselowski] gave him some room and we all rolled in there without wrecking, but when I first heard we were three-wide, I was pretty concerned that I wasn’t gonna have a clean lane to race in.”
As for the final restart, Johnson believed that Edwards got away with not following what he said was “restart protocol.”
“I felt like Carl…was slower than the pace car on his last two restarts, and it gives the leader a huge advantage when that happens,” said Johnson.
“You’re supposed to wait until you get between the two lines [on the wall] and take off and this was all going on before it…At some point, you can’t see the guy to know when he’s going to accelerate, and that’s the goal of the leader. If he can get you looking and get out of your sight and punch it, you never have a chance to recover and that is why the rule states that you’re supposed to maintain pace car speed.”
Still, Johnson will take an eight-point lead in the championship over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Las Vegas, where he’ll have the chance next weekend to continue a hot start to his drive for a sixth Cup title.