LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson wasn’t perfect Sunday. But he nearly was in winning the Party In The Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Johnson led 128 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race’s 160 laps and beat runner-up Greg Biffle by 1.2 seconds. In doing so, Johnson padded his lead in the Cup standings to 51 points over Carl Edwards, who started alongside Johnson on the front row but finished 18th.
Here’s how good Johnson was, statistically speaking: he had a driver’s rating of 148.1 (out of a possible 150) and his average position was 1.2.
“Jimmie was in a league of his own,” said Biffle. “He just drove away from us. He had something figured out.”
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by two Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in fourth and fifth — Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.
If there was any question about Johnson winning, it was in how he would manage five restarts during the onslaught of yellow flags that cropped up in the final 34 laps. And he did just fine with that.
“(It was) a great race car, clearly,” said Johnson, who won for the 63rd time in his career. “That car had a ton of speed in it. You (also) need power and then we need to back it down and save some fuel. We could do that, too.”
It was Johnson’s third victory at Pocono, but his first since sweeping both races at the track in 2004.
Johnson started the race on the pole by virtue of owner’s points when Friday’s qualifying was rained out. He quickly handed over the lead to Edwards, who led for nine early laps.
But Johnson quickly reeled Edwards in. And aside from the times when he had to make routine pit stops for tires and gas — allowing Brad Keselowski (four laps) and Newman (19) sometime in the lead — Johnson was never threatened.
Newman recognized Johnson’s dominance and figured his best chance at winning was by using some out-of-sequence pit stops. But even that didn’t work, as Johnson had plenty of gas late in the race to stay out when he need to, despite those five late cautions.
“Restarts are so tough,” said Johnson, who struggled with one last week at Dover when he was black-flagged after jumping past leader Juan Pablo Montoya. “But even with the dominant car, I didn’t want to be in that position of running second and have to worry about getting by somebody.”
Crew chief Chad Knaus played it cagey when he was asked when the car Johnson drove Sunday might be brought back. He said he and his team have spent so much time trying to figure out the new Gen-6 cars, they haven’t been able to think too much about which cars to take until a race arrives.
“We really haven’t had that luxury,” said Knaus. “I don’t think anybody in the garage has. You just kind of take what you have to the race track. We’ve been fortunate that a lot of our cars have been very solid.”
Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, is now far in front in the Cup standings with that 51-point lead over Edwards. Johnson said the sooner that he can get his spot locked up for the Chase for the Cup the better, especially with his wife Chani pregnant with their second child and expecting late this summer.
“If Chani goes into labor early, I don’t have to worry about Richmond,” Johnson said of the final race of the regular season, which is scheduled for Sept. 7. “It would sure take some pressure off, if we lock early.”