LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson walked into the media center holding his daughter’s hand, his pregnant wife right behind them. Their second child is due in September, right around the time of the final race before the Chase field is set.
With an automatic berth in NASCAR’s playoffs secured, Johnson has permission to skip the race for the big birth.
“If Chani goes into labor early, I don’t have to worry about Richmond,” he said.
A week after a late penalty denied his chance at a win, Johnson dominated Sunday at Pocono Raceway, leading 128 of 160 laps for his third victory of the season.
“Jimmie’s switched on right now,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “He’s as good or better as I’ve ever seen him.”
High praise for the five-time champion.
Even during his championship run, Johnson rarely cruised like he did on the 2½-mile triangle track. The Sprint Cup points leader pulled away on both of the last two restarts in the final 10 laps to pull into Victory Lane at Pocono for the first time since he swept both races in 2004.
Johnson was never seriously challenged a week after his run at a possible win at Dover International Speedway was taken away by a penalty off a restart. NASCAR penalized him for jumping leader Juan Pablo Montoya off the restart with 19 laps left, and he finished 17th.
It was a rare misstep for Johnson, but he rebounded just fine at Pocono.
“It would have been very easy to come in here with a chip on your shoulder or a grudge,” Knaus said. “Jimmie is not that kind of guy.”
Johnson briefly flirted with the idea of pulling some sort of restart stunt to send a message to NASCAR.
He just couldn’t bring himself to try and get one over on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I wanted to prove a point and show everyone what could happen in that restart zone,” Johnson said.
There was no need. The No. 48 Chevrolet was dialed in. He pretty much only lost the lead because of pit stop cycles.
BAYNE WINS RAIN-DELAYED RACE: In Newton, Iowa, Trevor Bayne rallied to win the rain-plagued Nationwide series race, becoming just the third series regular to win this season.
The victory capped a memorable week for Bayne, who got married Tuesday. Austin Dillon, who conceded the lead to Bayne with 11 laps to go, was second. Elliott Sadler was third, followed by Sam Hornish Jr. and Kyle Larson in the first Nationwide race of the year without a Sprint Cup driver.
VETTEL CRUISES IN MONTREAL: In Montreal, Sebastian Vettel won the Canadian Grand Prix, leading almost the entire way to extend his lead in the points race.
Starting from the pole position, Vettel finished 14.4 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton, the 2012 winner, was third after holding the lead for three of the 70 laps when Vettel made an early pit stop.
After practice and qualifying were slowed by rain, the sun came out for a warm and dry race on the Ile Notre Dame. That gave Vettel, who skidded in the rain on the final straightaway to give up the lead here two years ago, a clear path to the checkered flag.