When the cars finally hit the track on Saturday morning at Pocono, after rain forced all track activity to be cancelled on Friday, it was evident that five time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had a fast race car. Johnson backed up his fast practice times from Saturday at Sunday's Party in the Poconos 400 presented by Wal-Mart, leading 128 of 160 laps to come away with his third win of the 2013 season.
Johnson dominated the race from the onset in all facets, bouncing back from a controversial restart penalty last week at Dover that forced him to finish 17th. Pocono is a track that Johnson and his team have always performed well at, so it was important for them to kickoff the summer racing schedule with a good finish.
"That was a lot of fun. I really love this racetrack. It's always been one of my favorites," said Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus. "When you come up here you have to have so many elements to have a successful race. You've got to have a race car that'll handle, you've got to have a race car that's good aerodynamically, great horsepower, great drive train, so many cool things have to come into play, good fuel mileage, good pit stops. When we showed up here on Friday we realized we had a very fast race car and that was nice. Everybody has been working really hard at Hendrick Motorsports, and I really couldn't really be prouder. Jimmie did a fantastic job today. His car control today was second to none."
Emotions tend to run high in NASCAR and with the controversial ending affecting Johnson's team so negatively last week there was some concern that maybe tempers would once again flare this week. The fact that Johnson's car was so dominant pretty much nipped that issue in the bud and Knaus expressed after the race that Johnson is not the kind-of guy to hold a grudge.
"It would have been very easy to come in here with a chip on your shoulder or a grudge, and Jimmie is not that kind of guy," said Knaus. "For any of you who know Jimmie, he doesn't carry a grudge. He is very laid back the pinnacle Californian, and he just lets it go and come and go as it pleases. We knew what we needed to do and that's what we focus on. The one thing I feel we do really good as a team is we don't focus too much on what happened yesterday or last week. We always try to keep eyes forward, and I think that gives us always a little bit clearer view. Sometimes it's pretty easy to get clouded."
Johnson wasn't challenged much at all on the day except for a few restarts in the last 10 laps of the race. On both restarts Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran in the top five consistently throughout the day tried using his inside starting lane to duck to the inside in turn one, but Johnson was just too strong exiting and would pull away through two and three.
"We knew we had a good car. The last restarts were kind of tough. Being on the inside on the front row, really ain't the catbird seat," said Earnhardt Jr. "The guys behind you can get good runs on you and put you three wide, and I was just really more in defense mode there. If I had a shot at Jimmie, by the time we got to one, that was a bonus. They could get around the outside pretty good, Greg (Biffle) got in there and got around us. The outside was pretty nice in one and two on restarts."
Earnhardt was almost as good as Johnson in turns one and two, but Johnson was extremely better than anybody coming off turn three and into the front stretch. Johnson's speed off of turn three proved to be the difference on the afternoon.
"Jimmie beat us bad through Turn three. If he was stronger, that's where I thought he was stronger than the field," said Earnhardt Jr. "We actually gained a little bit back through one and two, but he was just flying through turn three and down the front straightaway, and if you're going to be good here, that's where you've got to be good."
"I knew I was faster there. I'm not sure what or why, but I could yard guys real good through turn three," said Johnson. "In years past I've learned a line and a rhythm to that corner that's been useful. A lot of available grip with the fresh repave, and I think it's kind of come my way coming back to the old way of the way turn three used to work for me, and that's the way I drove it today."
With the win Johnson extended his point lead over second place driver Carl Edwards to 51 points. Also, with Johnson picking up his third win of the season on Sunday, this makes it the 11th season where he has won three or more races.
"I knew we stretched it. I didn't know it would be that much, so that's great," said Johnson. "I think our engine really had a chance to shine today, and the configuration here and the fact that we're able to shift, our engine shop works really hard to make that power, and today it showed, and then at times when we needed to conserve fuel we could get that done, as well. I felt like it was a very well-rounded weekend for us."