AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, remained hot today as he vied for a second consecutive win in Round 2 of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Phoenix International Raceway. With the finish, Johnson extended his series lead to eight points ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, who finished fifth.
Johnson’s hard-fought battle came up slightly short when the race was settled by a green/white/checkered finish. Although he couldn’t make the pass for the win, Johnson was able to hold off a challenge by Denny Hamlin (Toyota) who finished third.
Earnhardt led the 316-lap race for 47 circuits, but rallied late to score his second straight top-five finish. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, started sixth and finished eighth in a solid run after being involved in an early crash in the season-opener last week at Daytona. After two events, Stewart sits 23rd in the point standings.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet SS was ninth, and Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cheerios Chevrolet SS was 10th, giving Team Chevy five of the top 10 in the final order.
Three other Chevrolet drivers finished just outside the top-10. AJ Allmendinger, No. 51 Guy Roofing Chevrolet SS was 11th, Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS was 12th, and Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS was 13th.
Carl Edwards (Ford) was the race winner and Brad Keselowski (Ford) finished fourth, to round out the top five.
The series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next week for the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday, March 10th.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND
ON HIS DAY: “Racing-wise, it was tough to pass all day long. Track position, and strategy on pit road really seemed to be the big deal. We went four early, and it cost us a lot of track position. We never made that mistake the rest of the day, and stayed up front. Very exciting finish there. To come across the line like that with Denny (Hamlin) was exciting. I didn’t think Carl (Edwards) followed restart protocol and slowed us down before we took off. But, outside of that, it was pretty much a perfect day. Very good start to the season. Leading the points. Up here running well on downforce tracks and superspeedway tracks. Life is good.”
YOU WERE FIRST AT DAYTONA, AND SECOND AT THE RACE TODAY AT PHOENIX. TALK ABOUT THAT FINISH: “Oh, I’m just very proud of this whole Hendrick team and everybody on this Lowe’s car and Chad Knaus (crew chief) and his leadership. It was a tough year for everybody in our shop during the off-season. Everybody worked hard to get us ready. And to open like this with great qualifying efforts, great speed in the race car, and great pit stops. Across the board, I’m very proud of this Lowe’s team.”
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED FIFTH
ON HIS DAY: “Well, I hate to be frustrated at Phoenix, but I think we are. We had a real good car. We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race. Just didn’t get the breaks on pit road. We kind of got boxed in, and picked on beating the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) off pit road. I think we could have beat him off pit road, but somebody was pulling in their stall in front of us, and just had to lift and give the spot to the No. 99. That was the race in my opinion, and we almost had it won right there. Real good race car. Tough in traffic; tough to get to people. But, we made our car good enough to actually make some passes and gain on some guys.”
ON THE RACE: “Well, I think we used strategy to get up front, on pit road, to get ourselves track position. We had a pretty good car. On that pit stop the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) got the lead. I was on the inside of him on pit road and I think I could have beat him off, but the No. 13 was trying to get in his stall and I had to lift for that. And I knew right then that was my opportunity to win the race was right there. It’s difficult to pass with the big spoiler. But our car was good enough to actually run up on some guys and make some passes. I want to thank (crew chief) Steve (Letarte). He made a lot of good changes and did some good stops on pit road. I’ve got to thank National Guard and Diet Mountain Dew and all our partners. But we haven’t been good here. So that was a good run for us. I was a little disappointed because I think we could have won. And you hate to give away them points. And I’d love to get to Victory Lane. This is a good sign for us though that we’ve improved this much at Phoenix. Hopefully it’s a sign for the rest of the season and that we’re going to be all right.”
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 BASS PRO SHOPS/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED EIGHTH
ON HIS DAY: “I think it was just a matter of where you cycled on the pit stops as far as when everybody figured out you had to take two tires than four. It was just a matter of figuring out where in the cycle you were and whether you could get back the track position. When we got up to the top three or four there we had good speed, but when you got hemmed up in the back there it was hard to make that ground.”
TRACK POSITION WAS EVERYTHING TODAY? “Unfortunately, it was. You could still pass. It was harder to pass the further back you were.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED TO THOSE RIGHT FRONT TIRES ON DANICA (PATRICK) AND RYAN’S (NEWMAN) CARS? “I don’t know yet. I honestly don’t know what happened. I saw Ryan’s the first time I think. I knew it was a tire, but I didn’t know what happened the second time. I will find out when I get a chance to talk with those guys.”
THOUGHTS ON THE NEW GEN-6 CAR ON A MILE TRACK UNDER RACE CONDITIONS? “It will change, but I think for the first race it is pretty sporty so far I think.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PEPSI MAX CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED NINTH
TALK ABOUT THE RACE TODAY: “It was a solid top-10. We had a better car than that. We just made some choices that lost us track position. Sometimes the cautions fall your way and sometimes they don’t. Today most of them didn’t, but we had a couple there at the end that did. That got us a little bit of that track position back. We were able to come home ninth, so all-in-all that was pretty solid.”
HOW WAS THE NEW CAR ON THIS TRACK? “It drove good. It was definitely challenging this is probably not the best track to judge by. This track is tough, flat and doesn’t lend itself to the best racing that we have on the series. Yet, I thought on the long run when the tires gave up a little bit you could start searching around, making some moves. Track position was key. We knew that coming in.”
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CHEERIOS CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 10TH
ON HIS DAY: “Over the last 60 or so laps we consistently had the fastest car in the field. It was great to top it off with a top-10 finish. Especially after all the adversity the team faced early in the day when Luke (Lambert, crew chief) flew home to be with his wife who is pregnant. Ernie (Cope) stepped in and made great calls all day. I appreciate the entire Cheerios team pulling together and working hard. It paid off in the end with a solid finish and we hope to build on that momentum next weekend.”