Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had some kind of a party in the Poconos.
Johnson was practically unstoppable in the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway, as he led 128 of 160 laps after starting on the pole Sunday. The only real chance for someone to overtake him was during two restarts within the final 10 laps. Johnson held off Greg Biffle and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the last restart with four laps to go. He beat Biffle to the finish line by 1.2 seconds for his third win of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season. Earnhardt finished third.
After the race, Biffle said Johnson was "in a league of his own." Biffle was right.
"Clearly, it was a great race car," Johnson said. "That car had a ton of speed in it. Not only the car but our engine really had a chance to shine. The configuration here (at Pocono) and the fact that we're able to shift, our engine shop works really hard to make that power, and (Sunday) it showed. At times when we needed to conserve fuel, we could get that done as well. I felt like it was a very rounded weekend for us, clearly with speed."
It was the third victory for Johnson at Pocono. He won both races at this unique 2.5-mile triangular track during the 2004 season.
Johnson was awarded the pole after Friday's qualifying session was rained out. Carl Edwards passed Johnson on the opening lap of the 400-mile race and then led the first nine laps before Johnson moved ahead of him and took command.
"Wow, that was a lot of fun," Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, said. "When we showed up here on Friday, we realized that we had a very fast race car, and that was nice."
The win also helped Johnson overcome frustration from one week ago when he had a victory at Dover slip away from him after a controversial penalty for jumping a restart. With 19 laps remaining at Dover, Johnson pulled ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead on the restart, but NASCAR officials ruled that Johnson had jumped it and therefore penalized him with a pass through. He ended up finishing in 17th.
Johnson strongly disagreed with NASCAR's call, and it had been a topic of discussion over the weekend at Pocono. He had no issues during any one of the restarts in Sunday's race.
"There was a little lingering for me, and I wanted to prove a point and show everybody really what can happen in that restart zone, based on what happened to me last week," he admitted. "If things stay the way they are, I'll save that for another day and prove my point even more. Outside of that, it doesn't change how we approach the weekend."
With a very comfortable 51-point lead and three wins this season, Johnson is virtually assured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Johnson has appeared in the Chase each year since the playoff format for NASCAR's premier series began in 2004. He won a record five consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 2006-10.
Right now, Johnson's points lead is wide enough that if he were to miss a race, he would still be atop the standings. That might come in handy later in the year. His wife, Chandra, is expected to give birth to the couple's second child around the same time as the Sept. 7 regular season-ending race at Richmond.
"If 'Chani' goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond," Johnson said. "It sure does take some pressure off if we lock (in the Chase) early and don't have to worry about Richmond."
Johnson began this season by winning the Daytona 500, which marked the debut of NASCAR's new Sprint Cup race car, the Gen-6. While most teams continue to adapt to the car, Johnson's team has figured it out pretty well.
"I feel like we have a clear vision now of what the Gen-6 car wants, and we're getting smarter and smarter with it," Johnson said. "And that leads into stretches where you can click off the wins and the finishes. I'm excited to have some clarity right now. I think we understand our package, regardless if it's a short track or a big track, and even superspeedways where we've been competitive, too."
At the rate he's going, it might be one party after another for Johnson this season, culminating with his sixth Sprint Cup title.