immie Johnson took his first trip to Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday, earning his first win at the half-mile track, the 50th of his Sprint Cup Series career and the third of the season.
“I’m just proud of what we continue to do,” said Johnson following the race. “I mean, it’s one thing to have some success, but to continue to do it year after year, to find tracks that really are our weakest tracks, focus on them, get stronger and better at them, is a cool thing to experience. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. I wish everybody could see behind the scenes what effort goes into it from Chad’s side, everyone at Hendrick, building the cars, our engineers, the focus and dedication I have on how to drive this track better, the notes that we pour through, the conversations we have, trying to find the smallest details to make us better week in and week out at this track so we could finally win here.”
Johnson started Sunday’s race fourth and quickly moved to the front of the field, leading for the first time on Lap 6 of 500. He went on to run in the top five for the majority of the race, leading three times for 84 total laps.
When a caution flag waved with only 16 laps remaining, Johnson was running second and came down pit road for fresh tires. Johnson and race leader Kurt Busch opted for four tires while the remainder of the top 10 took only two.
“(Taking two tires) was a pretty easy decision for us,” said crew chief Chad Knaus. “Obviously we were running in the second position coming onto pit road right behind the 2 car. We felt pretty confident that a lot of guys were going to take two tires, but I felt like if we had a really good pit stop, we’d roll out of the pits probably fourth. We had a good pit stop, and were sixth. With the amount of laps we had left, even though they were dwindling, I figured we’d have about 12 laps to go. We felt very confident we’d be able to get back up to the front, get a solid top five.”
Johnson lined up sixth when the race restarted on Lap 490 and quickly picked off the cars ahead of him, moving to third on the first lap and to the lead on Lap 494. The Lowe’s Chevrolet pulled away from the field during the final six circuits and crossed the finish line .894 seconds ahead of runner-up Tony Stewart.
“Every win is extremely special,” said Johnson. “But when a track kicks your butt for so long and you finally can win at that track, there’s just something really unique about that. That’s what I experienced today.”
Johnson moved to third in the driver point standings, 14 behind leader Kevin Harvick.
The Sprint Cup Series will continue short-track racing next weekend when they visit Martinsville Speedway. Johnson has won five of the last seven races at the paperclip-shaped track.
That event will be broadcast live on FOX beginning at 1 p.m. ET.