By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Entering Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, Chicagoland Speedway was one of four tracks that Jimmie Johnson had yet to score a victory at. After Johnson put his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS on top of the speed charts in the first practice, it looked like Johnson was finally going to cross Chicagoland off of his list.
With qualifying canceled due to weather, Johnson lined up eighth on the starting grid for the first Chase race of the season.
At the drop of the green flag, Johnson quickly began to move towards the front. Just 15 laps into the race, Johnson had broken into the top five.
The fast pace of the race saw a round of green flag pit stops begin on lap 49. Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, and others were on pit road when the caution waved for a loose tire in the grass.
For Johnson, he simply had to beat race leader Martin Truex Jr. to the start-finish line to remain on the lead lap. Johnson just barely made it to the start-finish line, with no time to spare. Harvick, on the other hand, was trapped a lap down.
As those who had yet to hit pit road did so under the caution, Johnson ascended to the lead. Johnson led the next 50 laps until another round of green flag pit stops began. This time, the pit cycle was completed before a caution waved for a spin by Brian Scott.
On the restart, Johnson had to fight hard to hold off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott. Although Elliott was able to lead a lap, Johnson got the better of his rookie teammate. Johnson went on to lead the next 48 laps until another cycle of green flag pit stops around lap 170.
When Johnson ducked onto pit road, he handed the lead over to Brad Keselowski. Johnson briefly reclaimed the lead before Elliott powered passed him. Johnson ran just behind Elliott until the next round of green flag pit stops.
As Johnson pitted on lap 233, Elliott stayed on track. As Johnson exited pit road, he was busted for speeding. Johnson had to return to pit road on lap 237 to serve a pass-thru penalty. Because of the penalty, Johnson dropped to 20th in the running order.
Johnson was able to climb up to the 15th position by lap 255.
A caution on lap 264 gave Johnson an opportunity to try to salvage more positions. Johnson, like most of the field, elected to pit under the caution as Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, and fellow Chase contender Carl Edwards stayed on track.
As the race went into overtime, Johnson was only able to gain a handful of positions before crossing the line in 12th. Johnson led the most laps, 118, of any driver in the race.
Johnson entered the weekend eighth on the Chase grid, and as of now, will leave Chicagoland in eighth. Johnson currently has a 10-point gap over the first elimination cutoff. Johnson’s car failed postrace measurements in NASCAR’s tech inspection.
After the race, Johnson was very disappointed.
“I’m very proud of this Lowe’s team, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We are digging. I just can’t believe I got in trouble down there leaving the pits,” a disgusted Johnson said. “I feel terrible for these guys. It should have been a top five day, but I will back down pit road even more and try not to make that mistake. Hats off to the team for our fast Lowe’s Chevrolet, I just screwed up.”