If you can only lead one lap...
Today, we’re throwing it back to 2006 to one of Jimmie’s most thrilling wins ever.
The start of the 2006 season was the beginning of what we now know is a dynasty. Fresh off their disappointment of missing out on their third straight shot at a title in Homestead, Jimmie and Team Lowe’s were determined to come back with a vengeance and get that monkey off their back to show the world they were Champions.
That is, until they encountered a little speedbump in Daytona. NASCAR slapped a four race suspension on crew chief Chad Knaus after they deemed the car “wasn’t in the spirit of the rules” after Daytona 500 qualifying. Johnson went on to capture his first win in “The Great American Race” with a first time crew chief atop the box – lead No. 48 engineer Darian Grubb. The following week in Fontana, Johnson would follow Matt Kenseth across the line for a second place finish.
The next race was the UAW Daimler Chrysler 400, a race Jimmie took the checkers in the previous year, and Kenseth the year before that. The last race on the old 12 degree banking configuration at Las Vegas was shaping up to be quite a showdown…
The odds makers in the casinos down the road favored Kenseth at 5/1, while Johnson was hot on his heels at 7/1. As the race progressed, Kenseth’s time at the front was briefly interrupted by Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, but the ’03 series champ played the role of engineer, leading the train of cars around for 146 laps – besting his 2004 record of 123 laps at the front for most laps led in the desert oasis.
With 34 laps to go, Kenseth led Johnson down pit lane for the final stops of the day under caution…they came out of the pits in the same order. When the field took the green Kenseth blazed out to a sizeable lead, until the 48 began to grow ever more ominous in his rear view mirror. On lap 258 of 267, the blue Lowe’s Chevy was 1.06 seconds in arrears of the bumble bee Dewalt Ford, and when they came around to complete lap 259, Kenseth was just .067 seconds up the road. Johnson was reeling in his big catch when suddenly a caution flew with four laps to go, setting up a Wild West green-white-checkered shootout.
Johnson stalked his prey for a lap and a half until he leapt to the outside of turn three on the final lap and ate the Roush Ford up coming to the checkers – 0.045 seconds was the margin of victory. As close as the finish was, it was only the 27th closest finish since electronic timing and scoring came along in 1993. Johnson was on the winning side of three of the 26 closer finishes, but we’ll save those for another day.
In his 20th career win in his 150th start, Johnson claimed his second of three straight Las Vegas Title Belts. He led but one lap (or a hundred yards, to be more precise) – the least amount of laps Jimmie has ever led in a race he was victorious.
Here’s the full race broadcast from that day. It was an action packed race from start to finish. Catch the exciting final restart at 2:46:00, killer burnouts at 2:48:00, the victory lane interview at 2:50:25, and check out Jimmie’s prerace interview at 3:20 to see who he called a frog…
The following week in Atlanta, Johnson finished sixth, giving Grubb a 1-2-1-6 record calling the shots…pretty stout for a first timer. As we all know, Johnson and Team Lowe’s did show the world that they were Champions that year, as they earned their first of a record five straight NASCAR titles. They didn’t let a little adversity in Daytona Beach slow them down, and that’s exactly what they intend to do this year.