Jimmie Johnson Wins Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Kevin Harvick blew an engine in practice and went to the back of the field for the start of Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He said it was just a chance to put on a better show.
Harvick certainly did, charging from the 41st starting spot to fourth in less than 50 laps. But so did six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who was also at the back of the pack after failing to qualify due to an inspection kerfuffle.
The two dueled for the second half of the race, with parries from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano making things even more interesting, but it was Johnson pulling away at the end, taking the checkered flag in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 for his fourth victory at Atlanta.
"I'm just so excited that the guys — we have new guys — could understand what I was complaining about and the things I didn't like about my race car," said Johnson, who started 38th.
"This thing was just bad fast. I had a blast racing with the 4. He was awfully strong today. I think track position there at the end set things in place. We had the restart we needed to, cleared the 88 and off we went."
Coming out of a caution with 14 laps to go, Earnhardt nosed ahead, only to be reeled in by Johnson. The No. 48 dropped the hammer and surged to an insurmountable lead.
Johnson led 92 laps, second only to Harvick's 116, and clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff.
Harvick was runner-up and Earnhardt completed a 1-2-3 Chevy sweep.
"Today was a lot of fun racing with (Johnson)," Harvick said. "We had a good race as we got to the middle portion of the race. I just got behind on one restart there and just never really made it back up there.
"Jimmie had the clean air there and was able to get going on the restart. I struggled on the restarts all day."
Harvick moved up 25 spots in the first 23 laps and quickly found himself near the front of the pack. Logano, who won the pole and was coming off an impressive victory at Daytona last week, led the majority of the first 86 laps, but then took a backseat to the battle between Johnson, Harvick and Earnhardt. He finished fourth.
"We raced hard," Logano said. "We raced up toward the front all day, just those Hendrick cars are fast.
"I did everything I could to maintain on restarts and being aggressive. Overall we're still having a good start to the season."
Earnhardt might have had a better chance if not for some debris knocking the grille out of his car.
"It was pretty much over with when that happened," Earnhardt said. "We had a great car today, just not enough to beat Jimmie."
Two more former champs, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, also were forced to the back of the starting field due to the inspection issues at Friday's Cup qualifying. Kenseth fought his way to a fifth-place finish.
Gordon had made similar headway to get into the top-10, but was caught up in a field-thinning multi-car smash-up with 67 laps to go.
"I thought we had a shot at a top 5," Gordon said. "Obviously this is not the way we wanted to start our season."
Gordon was racing at Atlanta for the last time after making his Cup debut here in 1992.
Kasey Kahne, last year's winner at Atlanta ran as high as fifth but couldn't muster the speed to repeat in 2015.