KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Sunday in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway, the Midwest track's most recent winner, Jimmie Johnson, was beaten by race-winner Danny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.
It didn't take Johnson long to admit he was also a little beaten-down by his four-car organization's latest failure to win owner Rick Hendrick's 200th Cup Series victory. Sunday, three of the four Hendrick cars finished in the top 10, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh and Kasey Kahne, eighth.
-- JIMMIE JOHNSON
"This week it doesn't register," Johnson said. "To me, last week at Texas [and] the week before, to lead a lot of laps at Martinsville and have our cars be one, two, three and not get the victory ... [Sunday], to get near the end and not close the deal does sting. We ran well but we weren't a dominant car and kind of finished where we should have.
"[Sunday] doesn't bother me. Sure, I'd love to [win the 200th], but the No. 56 [Truex] and the No. 11 [Hamlin] at the end had more pace than we did."
Johnson earlier had said "More than you could ever imagine." in response to a question about how much he wanted either his team or a teammate to win No. 200, to just stop "the question."
Last fall, when Johnson won Kansas' Chase race to put HMS on the cusp of its 200th win, he led 197 laps. Sunday, he led only two -- though after he started 15th, he raced into the top 10 by Lap 15 and was never again scored outside the top 10.
And while he accepted the lack of laps led, in the end it seemed the aerodynamic handicap of being somewhere other than up-front killed him.
The final 65 laps of the race were run caution free. On his last pit stop under yellow, crew chief Chad Knaus opted for four tires while several cars in front of them opted for two tires or to remain on-track. Johnson lined up for the final restart 12th and, even though he advanced three spots immediately, ultimately it wasn't a winning hand.
"Judging by Chad's reaction, I think he felt more guys would come to pit road -- especially [those] behind us," Johnson said. "But when I look back at how things played out, as Martin [Truex Jr.] said, you could catch somebody but especially passing them later in a run was so tough. I got close to him a couple times but couldn't pass him." Press Pass:Johnson discusses final pit stop
Johnson picked up a spot in the standings, to seventh, but in the position he's in -- the winless string he's in the midst of is only 15 races, whereas his Kansas win last season broke a 21-race winless drought -- he's willing to try anything to get back to Victory Lane.
"I commend Chad for trying something a little different, strategy-wise," Johnson said. "If things would've played out different at the end, maybe we could've put two on while the other guys were putting four -- something, just trying to give us some options.
"I don't think it affected our finish. We got basically back to where we were [before the stop]. I think I was ahead of the No. 11 but the No. 11 was real strong that last run and went up there and got the win."
Johnson had been ahead of Hamlin on the two runs prior to the pit-call divergence, but Johnson easily took a positive out of the end result.
"At the time [of the pit stop] it was frustrating, based on Chad's reaction and knowing that I lost some track position," Johnson said. "But once we got going I passed a bunch of cars and got right back in the mix."
And even though he couldn't quite "mix it up," Johnson thought he still might fall into one. Truex said on his in-car radio his car was "wrecking loose," yet at the end he was still trying to pass Hamlin until his last-gasp effort ended with Truex just too far sideways.
"Yeah, I was just watching from third spot, just hopeful that those guys would get a little aggressive and give me an opportunity," Johnson said with a grin. "I watched the No. 11 get by the No. 56, work him for a while and get his way by, and then the No. 11 seemed to lose a little bit of pace at the end and the No. 56 was right back to him.
"I just wish I was closer to those guys to race for it, but we really ran second to third all day long [and that] seemed to be the pace that we had in the car. So to come home third -- I'd love to finish better, but it's not like we had a dominant car with the most laps led that didn't win this week.
"We kind of finished where we ran all day." Watch highlights from the STP 400 at Kansas: