Three wins and a title short of Dale Sr., Jimmie on verge of milestones Jimmie Johnson could wind up at the end of the 2015 season with two very noteworthy accomplishments in the world of stock car racing. Neither is a given. In fact, a year from now we could be sitting here in front of our keyboards -- or mobile devices, if you choose -- pondering the same situation. Yet with each passing week, the Hendrick Motorsports driver seems to inch closer to a level few have attained in NASCAR. His latest victory, No. 73, came just this past weekend at Kansas Speedway . Now eighth on NASCAR’s all-time win list, he’s long been ahead of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, who checked in at No. 9 with 55 career wins when he checked out back in 2005. Just ahead, perhaps a straightaway in racing terminology, is Dale Earnhardt. The Intimidator. One of the greatest -- some say THE greatest -- racers the world of NASCAR has ever known. Only three wins separate the two. Three wins. Johnson already has three wins this year and the season’s less than one-third complete. Johnson , 39, said earlier this year that catching Earnhardt hasn’t been on his mind. That was after he won at Atlanta, if memory serves, and only two races into the season few teams know which direction their year will go. The picture seems much clearer today. All three of the No. 48 team’s wins this year have come on 1.5-mile tracks -- Atlanta, Texas and now Kansas. If you’re going to be tough to beat on one particular type of track, the mile-and-a-halves are a good choice. The series’ 36-race schedule is littered with them. Charlotte’s up next and in case you were wondering, it’s a mile-and-a-half as well. Seven of Johnson ’s 73 wins have come at CMS, and he’s the defending champion of the track’s annual Coca-Cola 600 , scheduled for a week from Sunday. Teammate Jeff Gordon matched Earnhardt’s victory total nearly a decade ago and then went sailing on ahead. A four-time champion with 92 career wins, Gordon has passed NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in the years since. He’ll hang it up at year’s end and his final win total will be just that. But success isn’t measured only in victories. Championships cement a driver’s status long after he’s gone. It’s been that way for Richard Petty, the first to win seven titles, and for Earnhardt, the second. Gordon notched four and seemed a sure bet to be the next, but then the Chase came along and while he’s been close (finishing second in ’07 and third in ’09), close doesn’t take home the trophy. Johnson won two titles almost before folks knew he spelled his first name with an “ie.” All six of his championships have come under the Chase format (which debuted in ’04), and that’s a knock in some folks’ eyes. It shouldn’t be. A driver and team have to be good enough through a 26-race stretch to qualify for the Chase, then better than anyone else in the final 10. Everyone plays and through the course of the season the cream eventually rises to the top. More often than not, Johnson and the No. 48 group have done just that. He could catch Earnhardt this year and not win the championship. He could win the championship and not catch Earnhardt. He could do both or he could do neither. But at the rate Johnson and his team are performing today, both are certainly possible. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR.com's Chuck Bush recaps the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway that included a lengthy rain delay, Erik Jones' first official Sprint Cup Series start and Jimmie Johnson winning his third race of 2015.
Jimmie Johnson tells NASCAR.com's Nick Duncan how he held off Kevin Harvick's late charge and what he might do with his unique SpongeBob SquarePants trophy after his Kansas victory.
Jimmie Johnson holds off Kevin Harvick in the final laps at Kansas Speedway to win the SpongeBob SquarePants 400.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus unveil the newest scheme for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600. Designed by a friend of Knaus, it honors service members everywhere, including the 14,000 active and retired service members at Lowe's.
Jimmie Johnson describes his win in the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway, his third victory of the 2015 season.
Jimmie Johnson talks about his late-race strategy at Kansas Speedway and his team's mindset moving forward.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson , Kahne rounded out top three Related: Practice 1 results Carl Edwards soared to the top of the leaderboard late in Thursday's opening practice for the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte Motor Speedway , propelling his No. Joe Gibbs Racing 19 ride at 192.273 mph to snag the premier spot. Reigning Coca-Cola 600 champion Jimmie Johnson -- one of the first to head onto the track for practice -- sat on top of the leaderboard for most the the afternoon, with a high speed of 191.673 mph. He settled into the second-place slot after Edwards' late run knocked him off the top position. Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne came up third-fastest in the field with a high speed of 191.639 mph. Kahne was also one of the first drivers to wheel his No. 5 ride onto the track for practice. Rounding out the top five were 2014 Sprint Cup champion and Stewart-Haas Racing 's Kevin Harvick (191.442 mph) and Michael Waltrip Rac ing 's David Ragan (191.435 mph). Following his 11-race absense from Sprint Cup racing, Kyle Busch returned to the race track last weekend for the Sprint All-Star Race and will be making his first Cup start in a points race this season at Charlotte. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted the 21st-fastest speed (190.081 mph) in his No. 18 Toyota during opening practice. Making his third Sprint Cup start this weekend, part-time Hendrick Motorsports rookie Chase Elliott posted the 27th-fastest time in the field, wheeling his No. 25 car at 189.142 mph. The current XFINITY champion will compete in the series' Hisense 300 on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track at 7:15 p.m. ET for Coors Light Pole Qualifying with coverage on FOX Sports 1. SHOP: Carl Edwards gear FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Joey Logano will also start from the front row in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 RELATED: Full starting lineup " See all 43 cars CONCORD, N.C. – After powering to his second pole of the season on Thursday night, Matt Kenseth will start NASCAR's longest race from the most advantageous position—with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota getting serviced in the most advantageous pit stall. Kenseth ran his fastest lap of the night (194.252 mph) in the third and final round of knockout qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway and secured the top spot on the grid for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM), the 12th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. The Coors Light Pole Award was Kenseth's first at Charlotte and the 15th of his career. Kenseth, who covered the 1.5-mile distance in 27.799 seconds, was a whopping .204 seconds faster than Joey Logano (192.836 mph), whose No. 22 Team Penske Ford will start beside Kenseth's Camry on the front row. "I think starting up front is important at this track," Kenseth said. "It typically goes through a lot of changes here, especially if the sun is out for the beginning of the race. You want to have good track position, good pit selection—all those things—so if you get a little bit off and you're chasing the setup, or the track changes, you have a little bit of a buffer being toward the front, hopefully... "All the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas had some speed tonight, and that was encouraging." SHOP: Kenseth gear Carl Edwards (192.733 mph) was third in his No. 19 JGR Toyota, followed by Greg Biffle in his No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford (192.226 mph) and NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 JGR Toyota (192.007 mph). Surprisingly, in consecutive seasons that have seen domination of the intermediate speedways by the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet of reigning series champion Kevin Harvick and the No. 48 Chevy of six-time champ Jimmie Johnson , Toyotas and Fords claimed the top seven qualifying positions for the 600. To Logano, however, the absence of a Chevrolet from the top five spots on the grid for the first time this season isn't hugely significant. "Those guys have been fast in the race—that's where their speed really shines," Logano said. "They qualify good--don't get me wrong—but in the race they shine a little bit more. You're talking about the 4, the 41 ( Kurt Busch ) and the 48. Those are the ones that stand out. "And I'm sure they'll be fast when it comes to race time. Qualifying's a different animal. You use a completely different setup, and qualifying can kind of mask over some issues you have in race trim a lot of times. ... I wouldn't (read) too much into it." Notes: All four Hendrick Motorsports entries failed to advance to the final round of knockout qualifying, but Kasey Kahne had a valid excuse. A cut tire prevented him from posting a quick qualifying laps. As a result, the three-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600 will start 33rd on Sunday ... Jeb Burton , Mike Bliss , Travis Kvapil , Jeff Green and Brendan Gaughan failed to make the 43-car field. The 48-car turnout for qualifying was the largest since 49 entries showed up for the season-opening Daytona 500 .
Strategy play to stay on older tires late pays off for six-time Cup champ RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings " SHOP: Winner's gear KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Thanks to a brief but wild Kansas spring storm and the long delay it produced, Jimmie Johnson on Sunday became the first Sprint Cup driver to win a race on Mother's Day since 2007. Johnson , who is pursuing a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this season, held off Kevin Harvick over the final six laps to win Sunday morning's SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway . Johnson's victory -- which was recorded just after midnight local time because of a delay of 2 hours and 16 minutes -- was his third of the season and his third at the 1.5-mile Kansas oval. "It was a long, hard night," Johnson , who led just 10 laps and who spun out unassisted early in the race, said in Victory Lane. "Once we got up front, we were able to hang on." Reminded about what day it was when he finally took the checkered flag, Johnson said, "I just want to wish Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. My mother and especially my wife Chani ( Johnson , wife), hopefully she is still awake. I wish she was here. I wish my girls were here too, but I will be home tonight and we will have some fun tomorrow." Harvick, who led 53 laps, finished second in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Third was Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Fourth was another Hendrick driver, Jeff Gordon , while pole-sitter Joey Logano was fifth in a Team Penske Ford. The victory was the 73rd of the six-time champion's career. It came thanks to some late-race strategizing by teams who had cars and drivers at the front of the field. Harvick appeared to be headed toward his third victory of the season as the laps wound down after he took the lead on a restart lap with 55 laps to go. The defending series champion had a lead of over 1 second with 14 laps to go and nobody appeared fast enough to close that gap let alone get around him. But with 12 laps to go, Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s Roush Fenway Racing Ford clipped the outside wall to bring out the final caution. Harvick and all but four others -- Johnson , Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon -- pitted as they were iffy on fuel. Harvick also opted to take two right-side tires. After the restart with six to go, the race became a three-driver affair as Johnson , Earnhardt and Harvick, who restarted sixth, edged away from the field. The decision by Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus turned out to be a winner – even though they had less rubber than did Harvick. Harvick never got close enough to Johnson to take a final shot at a pass. Johnson said the decision to not pit was a split-second, gut-feeling kind of thing and it was mostly his. "I could tell he (crew chief Chad Knaus) was having a hard time making the decision," Johnson said. "I'm kind of running through the events in my mind. We have two wins, we are locked in the Chase, and we are here to win a race, let's gamble. Let's go for it. Sure enough it paid off. A few more laps I think the No. 4 (Harvick) would have had me. He was awfully strong. Obviously being on right side tires would have been an advantage for him. We had just enough time to get this Lowe's Chevrolet to Victory Lane. Just very proud of the team and the effort that has gone into it. We have great race cars. I wish we would qualify a little better on Friday's that would make life a lot easier for us." Harvick said he wasn't mad about his team's decision to pit. "I've been on the other side of this deal where the cars aren't running good and you don't have a chance to win," he said. "We won a championship on pit calls and tires and everything fell our way. We've had a lot of things go our way and we've had a lot of things work." Harvick did insist, however, he had the faster car regardless of the outcome. "He wasn't that strong," Harvick said of Johnson . "He was just trying to run right in front of our car so for those first few laps when you're pushing like that it really takes the air off the front of the car and it gets the chatter in the front end and it snaps around. But that was the strategy they took and it worked out for them." Perhaps the most bummed driver as a result of the finish was Furniture Row Racing 's Martin Truex Jr . His No. 78 Chevrolet was clearly the fastest on the track for the vast majority of the race. It led a race-best 95 laps. But his team felt it needed to pit for fuel during the final caution. On the restart, it became obvious they had made the wrong call. Truex finished ninth. "We should have either stayed out or took new tires," Truex said. "We probably did the worst thing you could have done there with just staying out and getting gas only because we ended up being the last guy with no tires. Everybody else behind us had two and they ate us up on the restart." MORE: Video recap " Dale discusses Hamlin incident FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule All-time premier series wins Rank Driver Wins 1. Richard Petty 200 2. David Pearson 105 3. Jeff Gordon 92 4t. Bobby Allison 84 4t. Darrell Waltrip 84 6. Cale Yarborough 83 7. Dale Earnhardt 76 8. Jimmie Johnson * 73 9. Rusty Wallace 55 10. Lee Petty 54 *200 top-5 finishes is 12th all time *300 top-10 finishes is 17th all time