All season long, Jimmie Johnson's Achilles' heel has been late-race restarts and it was again a hindrance Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
With 22 laps remaining, race leader Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag following a caution for a Brian Vickers crash in Turn 3. He had taken the lead from Johnson when his team gambled and went with no tires during the subsequent pit stops. Johnson's team took two tires and was lined up to the inside of Kenseth.
It was then the race took a dramatic turn.
As the field fanned out heading into Turn 1, Joey Logano attempted to charge past Johnson on the inside, and he veered to block the pass attempt. Either because the two made contact or because Johnson lost the air on his car, the end result saw him spin in front of the field. Luckily for him no one plowed into the No. 48 car and he was able to continue on.
But the damage had been done, as any chance Johnson had of winning was now gone.
Afterward, Johnson didn't blame his poor restart on left-side tires that were 90-plus laps old or on his decision to cut across the nose of Logano. He placed blame on Kenseth for what he felt was an unnecessarily slow restart
"The 20 (Kenseth) should be penalized for stopping everybody on that f****** restart," Johnson radioed his team.
NASCAR disagreed and replays indicated that Kenseth did nothing improper to necessitate a penalty. That he was able to stage an impressive rally in the closing laps to finish ninth did little to placate Johnson.
"We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there," Johnson said. "Then we were, like, three and four wide going in the corner, and then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. Unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish."
This has been ongoing problem for Johnson this season.
He was black-flagged for jumping a restart with 19 laps to go at Dover. The penalty erased what was a certain victory. Two weeks later, Johnson also had an issue at Michigan when he nearly wrecked trying to avoid another penalty for being too aggressive on a restart.
Throughout the numerous issues he's had with proper restart procedure, Johnson has maintained his innocence. That again was the case Sunday.
"The No. 20 broke the pace car speed," he said, "which you aren't supposed to, but, (NASCAR) aren't calling guys on that so I need to start trying that in the future."
His frustration is somewhat understandable when you consider at Kentucky, like Dover, Johnson had the field covered. On the day he led a total of 182 laps and without his misstep would have likely been in Victory Lane celebrating his fourth win of the season.
"I certainly didn't feel like I did anything wrong from where I was," Kenseth said. "But you know, after dominating all day and you have a problem at the end, it's always -- I imagine it's frustrating. We've been there, too."