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article imageNASCAR: Johnson comes from the back of field to win in Atlanta

By John Duarte     Mar 2, 2015 in Sports
Hampton - Jimmie Johnson didn't let his starting position get him down and made a charge late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Failing to pass inspection prior to qualifying on Friday meant Johnson, instead of being among those at the front of the field, would start 37th of 43 cars on the starting grid. The poor starting spot also affected the position of his pit box. It was shaping up to be a terrible weekend for Johnson at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Unfortunately, the way (Friday) qualifying went, we didn't have a good pit stall pick. We weren't that good (in Saturday practice),” said Johnson, adding that his “awesome” crew managed “to get the job done. They surprised me today.
“They really dug deep and figured out what I needed in this race car,” he said. “Just very, very thankful.”
The win means that Johnson is almost assured of making the 2015 Chase For the Sprint Cup at the end of the season. If he does become on of the final 16 drivers chasing the Sprint Cup championship, Johnson will be the only driver to be in the Chase since NASCAR implemented the 10-race shootout format to end the season in 2004.
Last year, NASCAR tweaked the format to put emphasis on wins during the season. Race winners are almost certain of qualifying for the 16-driver field vying for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson said that he is happy to win the second race of the 2015 NASCAR season, but he isn't ready to celebrate just yet.
“This takes a ton of pressure off,” he said. “I think it is pretty much a lock (for making the field of 16 drivers making the Chase) as long as we have a smooth season. I think, if we win a second one, it is definitely a lock.”
The performance on Sunday is encouraging for Johnson. He started near the back of the grid and steadily worked his way through the field. At the end of the day, he led 92 of the race total 325 laps. The race win was sealed after the restart following a massive wreck that red-flagged the race for nine minutes. Johnson was almost two seasons ahead of his nearest challenger, Kevin Harvick, as he crossed the finish line.
“We had a great race car,” Johnson said. “We're pumped, excited and looking forward to going racing next week.”
Johnson said that, while the early victory is good, he will have to win again “in six to eight weeks” or the questions about the outcome of the season will start to rise.
“Next weekend, in Vegas, will really be a telling sign which teams are kind of geared up for the meat of the season, what our season's based on,” he said. “This (win) doesn't hurt by any means. I'm feeling really good, but I'm not 100 per cent there yet. We'll figure that out next weekend.”
The Sprint Cup Series standings are tight as one would expect after two races. Joey Logano, who finished fourth on Sunday after winning the Daytona 500 the previous weekend, has a one-point lead over Johnson, with Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting third and fourth respectively.
Series defending champion Harvick finished second in the QuikTrip 500 after a similar finish in the opening race of the season. He owned up to one mistake that make all the difference in the race on Sunday.
“I had one bad restart on the outside where I spun the tires, fell back to fifth or sixth, never quite recovered from that,” Harvick said. “All in all, it was a great day.”
Earnhardt finished third, as he did in the Daytona 500, but counted himself lucky after he ran over debris on the track late in the race.
“It knocked the grille out. It hurt the aerodynamics. It was pretty much over with when that happened,” he said. “Real fortunate we didn't have another caution because I don't think we would have done well with the restart with that grille knocked out.”
The next race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is the Kobalt Tools 400, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Mar. 8, 2015.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, Jimmie Johnson, kevin harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr
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