FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Jimmie Johnson got his first win of the season, going from the back for the field to Victory Lane on Sunday at a Texas track that has changed since his first six wins there.
Johnson, who last year won his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series season championship, charged under Joey Logano with 16 laps to go. The Hendrick Motorsports driver kept his No. 48 Chevrolet in front for his 81st career race win.
“I guess I remembered how to drive; and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” Johnson said. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were just able to execute all day.”
This was the first Cup race in Texas since the 1 1/2-mile facility was completely repaved and changes made to Turns 1 and 2 earlier this year. It was Johnson’s seventh victory at Texas, six in the last 10 races there.
Kyle Larson, the season points leader, finished second for the fourth time this year, but also won at California. Logano, polesitter Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five.
Johnson had to start at the back of the 40-car field because of a tire change after a spin in qualifying. He had qualified 24th.
“Oh, probably on the second or third run I knew we were in good shape. From there, off we went,” he said. “It was so tough those first 23 laps in traffic. The air was very turbulent, the track wasn’t very clean.”
Johnson’s only top-10 finish in the first six races of the season had been ninth at Phoenix. Earnhardt, his Hendrick teammate, had his first top-five finish since a runner-up at Pocono last June, not long before he missed the last half of the season because of lingering concussions symptoms.
Ryan Blaney won the first two stages and gave Wood Brothers Racing, the oldest active team in NASCAR, its longest front-running car in a race in 35 years. The 23-year-old Blaney, who led 148 laps, went on to finish 12th.
Blaney first got the lead on the second early restart on lap 16, with a somewhat bold move around the outside of Harvick going through the reconfigured Turns 1 and 2, where the banking was reduced and the track widened.
The Wood Brothers team was formed in 1950, but hadn’t had a driver lead at least 100 laps in a race since Neil Bonnett in 1982. The team’s last victory was Trevor Bayne in the 2011 Daytona 500.
Blaney restarted 20th following the second stage. But after working back into the top 10, he overslid his pit on the last caution and was too far back to make a run at winning in the final 30 laps.