JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet finally put the road race monkey off his back Sunday at Infineon Raceway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Infineon Raceway. It was his first road course victory in 17 starts, and his fifty-first career win, putting him tenth in overall NASCAR Cup wins.
Johnson started second in the race, and got bonus points for leading the most laps – three times for 55 laps, exactly half of the race. He is now second in the points.
For MARCOS AMBROSE/No.47 Toyota, the race was his to lose and he did. He literally switched off his lead, and finished sixth. During the last caution (for BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.12 Dodge spinning in Turn Seven) Ambrose was leading going uphill into Turn Two, and he turned off his car – as drivers do to save fuel – and couldn’t switch it back on. NASCAR rules say the leader must “maintain speed”. It was a huge tactical error on Ambrose’s part. Second place Johnson was put into the lead and Ambrose relegated back to seventh. The Aussie had already turned the fastest race time on Lap 97. On the white flag lap he again was fastest and moved up to sixth.
Johnson said he thought Ambrose had a major problem. “I was pressuring him, hoping for a mistake. But it was the last type of mistake I would expect to see. Most guys shut off cars going down hill. Going up hill was the last thing I would have expected. If they put him back in front of me, I would have raised hell on the radio. I feel bad for him and his team owners. I couldn’t get by him, so it was a gift handed to us. I’m not saying I was content to be in second, but I clearly had nothing for him. I said OK, I’ll take this and off I went and had a great day.”
CHAD KNAUS, Johnson’s long-time Crew Chief, said “I hate it for those guys (Ambrose’s team). They had the best car today, especially on the short runs. They did a good job, they really did. It’s tough to lose ’em like that sometimes. But we’ll take it for the victory for us, for sure.”
Ambrose was understandably succinct after the race. “I’m disappointed. It’s NASCAR’s house and I’ll always play by the rules. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it and that’s only because I lost the race.”
The switch from Ambrose to Johnson as leader, even if under caution, counted as a lead change, which set a new Infineon record for lead changes – 12. Eight drivers led.
Second through fifth finishers were ROBBY GORDON/No.7 Toyota, who won the 2003 Infineon race; Points Leader KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Chevrolet; pole sitter KASEY KAHNE/No.9 Ford; and JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet. The Margin of Victory was 3.105 seconds.
KEVIN CONWAY/No.34 Ford was the top/only Rookie, finishing twenty-eighth after starting forty-first.
Road Race Ringers had mixed results. BORIS SAID/No.26 Ford, who has been running selected Cup races for several years, started seventeenth, led twice for eight laps and finished eighth. JAN MAGNUSSEN/No.09 Chevrolet made his NASCAR debut, starting thirty-second, ran as high as eighth and finished twelfth. MATTIAS EKSTROM/No.83 Toyota started thirty-eighth in his first-ever NASCAR race, led seven laps, and finished twenty-first. Veteran road racer, P.J. JONES/No.07 Toyota started thirty-fifth and finished forty first, retiring with electrical problems.
Seven cautions took 14 laps of racing from the 110 lap race. As things were OK on the white flag lap, no matter what happened there would have been no Green-White-Checkered Flag finish. Nothing happened.
So much for the NASCAR-promised Quickie Cautions. There were seven cautions, not all could be considered quick. And there was the Red Flag of 21 minutes, 18 seconds, which was triggered by a big crash on the fourth caution restart – Lap 66. The leaders got through, but back in the pack the cars piled into each other.
Five cars were involved in the Red Flag melee: DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota; MAX PAPIS/No.13 Toyota; MARTIN TRUEX/No.56 Toyota; SAM HORNISH, Jr/No.77 Dodge; and REGAN SMITH/No.78 Chevrolet. Afterwards, Truex said angry. “We got put in by Jeff Gordon.” Truex said Gordon has not apologized. “Of course Jeff said he didn’t mean it, but he did.” Truex’s unhappiness included the double file restarts. “Everybody just gets ridiculous. It’s just stupid, it’s uncalled for.”
Jeff Gordon said “Truex should be mad and I certainly owe him an apology. And whatever is coming back to me, I understand. When you blatantly get into a guy like that, you can say you are sorry all you want, and I certainly had no intention of what happened with him. I feel terrible because Martin races a lot of guys clean out there. He had a good run going and I ruined it for him. It was wild and crazy. I made a lot of guys mad today.
Papis said “I crashed in front of some people and people crashed in the back of me. It looked like someone in the front brake-checked. It was not like a normal accordion feeling. It was like a real stop.”
Johnson’s take on all the commotion behind him in the race. “I was so thankful to be up in front” listening to the radio telling what was going on behind him. “It was like listening to PRN from my two spotters telling me where all the stuff was.”
The race lasted nearly three hours. The crowd was estimated at 93,000 or 90,000, depending on which set of results you believe.
Unofficial Standings have Harvick still leading, 140 points ahead of Johnson. Third through fifth are KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota; Hamlin; and Jeff Gordon.
All cars cleared Scrutineering. NASCAR took the No.48 Chevrolet, No.7 Toyota and No.1 Chevrolet back to Charlotte R&D Center, along with the engines from No.48 and No.1.
The overhead TV shots early on in the race, showing the cars parading through Turn Seven and into the Esses, were brilliant. It looked like a multi-colored sinuous snake oozing around the track.
Mea Culpa. I know I said the slowing down/braking was intense in Turn Eleven at Infineon Raceway. However, 1430 mph was a bit extreme. The correct figure is 140 mph.
During the Red Flag the emergency alarm system malfunctioned in the Media Center, so a piercing, annoying alarm went on for seemingly ten long, agonizing minutes. The track handed out ear plugs to the Media who couldn’t leave. Thank goodness for David Clarks. I could hear the talking heads but not the alarm.