Regan Smith and Billy Johnson get together during the Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented by Menards at Road America.
Kevin Harvick dominated early but Jimmie Johnson came on strong at the end to earn the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson passes Kevin Harvick late in the race and holds on to win the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway and earning his 71st career NSCS win.
Matt Strickert chats with Jimmie Johnson in Victory Lane after racing from the back to the front and capturing his fourth checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson talks about circumstances on pit road that helped him on the racetrack and what winning this early means for his season.
Following the Johnsonville Sausage 200 presented by Menards at Road America Max Papis has a few words with Billy Johnson .
Jeff Gordon holds off Jimmie Johnson to win a great battle at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2011.
Bruce: From starting spot to pit selection, qualifying run sets up race day Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Never underestimate the importance of qualifying. While it carries with it no guarantee of a solid finish on race day, the position earned in qualifying impacts a great deal more than where a driver will start the race. This comes to mind in light of qualifying for the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season. At Daytona, teams were irate after a crash collected several cars during the first of three rounds of group qualifying on the 2.5-mile track. Last week, problems off the track created a furor -- delays in the inspection line resulted in 13 cars failing to make it to the grid in time to post an official qualifying lap. No big deal, right? Jimmie Johnson , one of the 13, wound up winning the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in spite of his 37th-place starting position. Matt Kenseth , positioned 36th in the lineup, also failed to make it to pit road before the first round of qualifying ended. He finished fifth. It was a big deal to those who did manage to make it through the inspection process in time, and it was likely a bigger deal to those who didn't. Why not do away with it? Why not determine the lineup based on a blind draw or some other means that favors no one? Because qualifying still matters. Regardless of issues that surfaced at Daytona and Atlanta, qualifying continues to play an important role in what takes place on race day. The advantages of winning a pole or qualifying well don't end when qualifying has been completed. Actually, they've just begun. For starters, the order for pit selection is determined based on qualifying results, with the fastest teams getting first choice of available pit stalls. That's why the pole-winning team usually claims the No. 1 stall, located closest to the exit off pit road. With no cars pitting in front, it's a quick easy drive out of the box and onto the track. Others near the front of the lineup quickly fill in those stalls located closest to openings in the pit wall (and provide access to and from the garage). Those stalls provide a clear entry or exit, depending on location, and are also highly sought after. The positioning of timing lines on pit road, used to determine speed, are also a factor when it comes to picking a pit stall. Pit road speeds are based on the amount of time that elapses as a car travels past two timing lines, or segments. A driver with a pit stall located just before one of the lines will typically speed up after passing the first line in the segment in which the team's pit stall is located. Because he or she is pitting before crossing the next line, the overall time is not in excess of that which is allowed. How, then, was Johnson and the team able to overcome his poor pit stall location in Atlanta? Early in the race, Johnson often lost positions on pit road even though his No. 48 team had no problems when servicing the car. It wasn't until the second half of the race that where the team was pitted became less of an issue. Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, said the early problems were "a direct result of us not being able to qualify." "Believe it or not, there are only a handful of pit boxes (available) ... we had to shoehorn in where we could," he said. Johnson was pitted near the center of pit road; Carl Edwards had the spot behind him while Joe Nemechek was pitted in the box directly in front. With 43 cars in the field, Johnson wasn't the only one hemmed in, but it was one more thing the team had to deal with as its driver sought to make up ground throughout the course of the race. "The 19 (of Edwards) ... qualified well, ran well; we always had to come in behind them," Knaus said. "The 34 (of Nemechek) ... for the first half of the race was doing a good job of maintaining on the lead lap. We were shoehorned in the middle (during our stops)." That slowed Johnson's entry into his pit box as well as his exit once the stop had been completed. Knaus said his driver often lost "six to eight spots" when on pit road in the first half of the race. It wasn't until Johnson was running ahead of Edwards on the track that he was assured of a clean entry into his pit stall. At about the same time Nemechek went a lap down, meaning he was no longer allowed to pit with lead-lap cars. "Once that all happened," Knaus said, "the guys were able to knock out some super pit stops." While issues such as an engine change or a missed drivers' meeting will result in a driver having to drop to the rear of the field before the race starts, pit selection has already occurred and isn't affected. Drivers starting inside the top five won 15 of last year's 36 points races, and 26 were won from a top-10 starting spot. Fast in qualifying doesn't always mean fast over the long run, but combined with other factors, it certainly doesn't hurt. A better pit stall is a plus. It's not a guarantee. And it all starts with qualifying. "It's a direct result of what happens on Friday," Knaus said. "That's why I've said time and time again, your race starts on Friday. "How you qualify sets you up for the event, for your pit selection, (and) sets you up mentally. It does the whole thing." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
No. 48 driver tells story of how instrumental Gordon was in his early career Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As Jimmie Johnson continues his pursuit of a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, teammate Jeff Gordon renews his own pursuit for a fifth championship. The biggest difference, outside the career totals, is that Johnson , at 39, has time on his side. Gordon, at 43, does not. But not because of his age, as his highly competitive 2014 effort proved. While his career could be extended by several years, Gordon announced last month that that would not be the case. The 2015 season will be his last. MORE: Full coverage of Gordon's final full-time season "I look at my own arc in life and in motorsports," Johnson said Thursday during the annual NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway, "and the fact that he gave me my chance, created a team for me to go racing, and then what has happened from there. "You won't see another competitor out there singing his praises, I think, like me." Before Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick offered Gordon a piece of a new Sprint Cup team that would debut in 2001, there was no No. 48 team at HMS. Johnson , a former off-road racer, was a level below Sprint Cup, looking for a break. Gordon, already a three-time champion, was a fellow racer from the west coast, one of the first to successfully make the crossover from open wheel sprints to the heavier stock cars. He might not have known who Johnson was, but Johnson surely knew of Gordon's exploits. "I doubt he'll remember and we never had a chance to formally meet," Johnson said, but at test sessions, I guess in '99 and even in 2000 when he was running some (XFINITY) stuff … every now and then the 24 car would be there and I would always try to linger by his pit and try to introduce myself to him, and it never worked out." Eventually, Johnson said he took matter into his own hands. His team at the time, owned by William Herzog, was exiting the series and he needed career advice. RELATED: Johnson reflects on Chase format a year later At Michigan in the summer of 2000, he got more than that. "The only opportunities I had involved switching manufacturers … and I knew Jeff left Bill Davis and Ford and went to Rick Hendrick and Chevy and I thought he had like the magic answer, so I introduced myself at the drivers' meeting, asked him for a few minutes of time," Johnson said. "He brought me back to the transporter, we talked briefly before the start of the race, and after I told him my situation, he gave me some advice, and then said, 'you're not going to believe this, but we're talking about starting a fourth team, and your name is the only name that's been brought up.' "So just in a 30‑minute window of time, what all went on, starting out trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to him, looking for some advice, and then practically leaving with the job was just insane. It was the wildest 30 minutes of my life." But it's not only the impact on his own career, Johnson said, that stands out. Gordon opened the door for NASCAR on a number of levels on and off the race track. RELATED: Find out how Kahne learned of Gordon's decision "I think now since we know it's his final year, we're all looking back and having some 'aha' moments,” Johnson said. "He really was instrumental, in my opinion, in helping car owners and sponsors realize that there are drivers far and wide that can come in and be competitive, and he opened the door for (Tony) Stewart, and Stewart opened the door further for myself and Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse. Now we have more drivers from the state of California than any other state; it's wild to think in NASCAR that that's the case, and I think Jeff is responsible for that trend happening. "You look at when Jeff and Dale Earnhardt and their competitive nature in our sport, kind of falling into mainstream media at that point -- we needed a clean‑cut, well‑spoken person to kind of carry the sport. Jeff was that guy. His dominance helped our sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule