Jimmie Johnson repeatedly said he didn't have the fastest car on Sunday. It was evident at times when he was battling mid-pack. Still, as he has managed for several weeks now, he came home with a great result.
CREW CALL MOTION
8: While Kurt Busch lost position coming off pit road, he was passed under green-flag racing only eight times. That was least among the 43 competitors on Sunday.
Pat Patterson recaps Jimmie Johnson's big victory and all the weekend action from Atlanta.
This time, the credit went to crew chief Chad Knaus and Co.
"We had like a 15th-place car all day," Johnson said. "Chad made great adjustments on the car and got us at least in contention so we could run in the top five and maybe a third-place finish. With the pit strategy at the end -- Chad made the call -- the cautions worked in our favor and we were able to capitalize on the great pit call."
The call was for two tires on the last pit stop. Knaus said it's hard to develop such a strategy before the race because there are so many uncertainties during the event. However, when the time came, he never hesitated with the two-tire call.
"When that caution came out, we knew we didn't have a car capable of winning the race at that point," Knaus said. "But usually late in the race when cautions come out, cautions breed cautions, so track position was going to be important.
"So we were fortunate to see guys taking two tires and made a call to take two tires and went with it."
Jeff Gordon, co-owner of Johnson's No. 48 team, was proud of the call -- even though the win did get Johnson five bonus points for leading a lap and, in sum, 40 more points than he got for finishing seventh.
"Those guys ended up making a great call winning the race," he said.
"We had trouble on the pit stop, we didn't get the right side jacked up enough and had a bad pit stop," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Kyle Busch.
Gustafson said there are too many unknowns to predict where the team would have finished had the stop gone smoother. For one thing, there was a wreck right afterward when Denny Hamlin had fuel trouble and Busch was taken out in a crash, finishing 20th. For another, there was little time left in the race.
"I think Matt [Kenseth] came out seventh and we should have been right there with him," Gustafson said. "If we had come out sixth, the way it went on, we wouldn't have won the race because there wasn't enough time. I hate it for my guys, they really deserve it. Kyle drove a great race. This is a very humbling sport."
Kurt Busch ended up finishing eighth after starting second. On paper, it didn't look like a bad day -- especially given his misfortunes during this Chase. However, Busch is certain he could have finished higher with better pit work.
"We had pit stops where we would come in first, second or third and go out 12th," he said. "We did that twice today. ... I'm scared to come down pit road because our crew isn't quite hitting on all eight cylinders or that we just didn't make the right decisions on pit calls."
Indeed, while Johnson's two-tire call won him the race, Kurt Busch and Co. went with four tires and came out farther back.
Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.