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article imageNASCAR: Johnson truly among NASCAR elite after latest win

By John Duarte     Feb 29, 2016 in Sports
Hampton - Jimmie Johnson tied a NASCAR legend for most all-time wins after taking the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday.
The win, the 76th of his career, pulled Johnson level with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and made him far and away the leader among active drivers on the Sprint Cup all-time wins list. The next closest driver is Tony Stewart, who is currently out with an injury suffered in a dune-buggy accident in January.
Johnson said he regretted not having a chance to race against Earnhardt, who died after an accident at the 2001 Daytona 500. Johnson began his full-time Sprint Cup career the following year, but made his series debut eight months after Earnhardt's death.
“To have 76 (wins) and tie Dale Earnhardt Sr. Is something I'm very, very proud of,” Johnson said. “I entered the sport just hoping I could win a race and keep a job for a few years. To tie him today, for myself personally, it gives me a little something—it's a bit of attachment to the great Dale Earnhardt.”
It was looking like a repeat of last year's Atlanta Motor Speedway race, with Johnson and Kevin Harvick finishing one-two, but a late crash pushed the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 into overtime. Whereas in previous years there would be a green-white-checkered finish, NASCAR tweaked the rule. Each track now has an overtime line on the backstretch. A the green flag is waved to restart the race once it has gone beyond its scheduled distance and the leading car crosses the overtime line, the race ends once the leader crosses the finish line. If a caution flag comes out before the leader crosses the overtime line, subsequent attempts will be made until a clean restart is achieved.
Johnson prevailed on the first attempt at overtime, while Harvick wound up sixth.
Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both took advantage of a miscue by Harvick, who spun his tires, and surged past. Earnhardt Jr. eventually wound up second in the race, with Busch third.
After the race, Harvick placed the blame entirely on his own shoulders.
“We just didn't execute today,” he said. “Everybody on our Jimmy John's/Busch Chevrolet hung in there all day and we'll keep at it.”
Johnson was happy with the result and getting the season off to a good start. He commented on his poor performance during the summer part of the 2015 schedule and is determined to not have the same happen this season.
“Starting the season hot and being strong and winning and doing all those things is very important, but it's tough to carry that through the entire year” he said. “Managing the pace and the effort that we put in through the year up until the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) is something that we're going to address and should do a much better job with this year.”
Finishing second at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday was a positive result for Earnhardt Jr. He congratulated Johnson on his victory and tying his father on the all-time wins list. He said he knows Dale Sr. would have liked Johnson and there were a lot of similarities between the two when it came to racing..
“I think dad would have liked Jimmie as a person, but he certainly wouldn't have enjoyed competing against him,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I don't think any of us—I mean, I love when we race door-to-door, but when he goes out there and spanks you, it's not a lot of fun.”
After two races on this year's Sprint Cup calendar complete, reigning series champion Busch leads the driver standings. Martin Truex Jr. is second and 2014 champion Harvick is third.
NASCAR nation now heads for the first western swing on the schedule, with races in Nevada and one in California. First up is the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6.
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