LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson walked into the media center holding his daughter's hand, his pregnant wife, Chani, right behind them. Their second child is due in September, 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 birth.
"If Chani goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond," Johnson said. "It would sure take some pressure off, if we lock early."
A week after a late penalty denied his chance at a win, Johnson dominated the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway, leading 128 of 160 laps for his third victory of the season. He beat runnerup Greg Biffle by 1.2 seconds and had a driver's rating of 148.1 (out of a possible 150); his average position was 1.2.
"Jimmie's switched on right now," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "He's as good or better as I've ever seen him."
The five-time champion has rarely cruised like he did on the 2½-mile triangle track. He padded his Sprint Cup points lead, pulling away on the last two restarts over the final 10 laps to win at Pocono for the first time since he swept both races in 2004.
A week ago his run at a possible win at Dover International Speedway was taken away by a penalty off a restart.
"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," he said.
There was no need. The No. 48 Chevrolet was that dialed in. He pretty much only lost the lead because of pit stop cycles.
After one caution in the first 125 laps, they came in bunches over the last 35. Johnson held off Earnhardt with nine laps left and pulled away again with four to go for his 63rd career Cup victory.
"He's one of the best drivers this sport has ever seen," Earnhardt said.
Odds are, Johnson, who won from the pole after rain washed out qualifying Friday, won't really skip a race, especially with the due date in mid September. But if he has that top seed locked up and is needed in a pinch, he'll put family first.
"That's what I'm working so hard for," he said.
Earnhardt third was third and Dover winner Tony Stewart was fourth, followed by fellow Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Newman.
"I really didn't have anything for Jimmie," Biffle said. "Jimmie was in a league of his own."
Earnhardt would love a repeat of last season when he was in contention at Pocono before settling for eighth, then won the next week at Michigan International Speedway. He wasn't won since — and Michigan is on deck.
"We want to get a win, man," Earnhardt said. "I can see it right there in front of me. I really thought we got close."
Stewart and Newman continued a three-week resurgence for SHR, though Danica Patrick was 29th. Stewart jumped three spots to 13th in the standings and still has the No. 1 wild-card spot in the Chase for the Championship. The final race before the 12-driver field is set is Sept. 7.
"It's not just one team, the whole organization is gaining momentum," Stewart said.
Johnson had his ninth top-10 finish of 2013 and has now won at least three races in 11 of his 12 full-time seasons. His 128 laps led were the most of his career at Pocono — amazing since the race was shortened from 200 laps to 160 last season.
"That car had a ton of speed in it,'' said Johnson, who won't take his success for granted.
"There are no guarantees we'll win again, there really aren't. The sport moves so fast."
. fast facts
Sprint Cup points
After 14 of 36 races. The top 10 plus two wild cards after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Jimmie Johnson 521—
Carl Edwards 470 51
Clint Bowyer 452 69
D. Earnhardt Jr. 439 82
Kevin Harvick 434 87
Matt Kenseth 418 103
Kyle Busch 412 109
Kasey Kahne 400 121
Brad Keselowski 398 123
Greg Biffle 395 126
Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official results today