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Jimmie Johnson wins 2015 Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

The six-time Sprint Cup champion pulled away to win his first race of the season Sunday at Atlanta.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmie Johnson got the jump on a pivotal restart with 15 laps remaining, fended off Dale Earnhardt Jr. then drove away to win Sunday's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Earnhardt, pole-sitter Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Harvick and Earnhardt placed second and third, respectively, in last week's season-opening Daytona 500.

The deciding restart was set up by an eight-car pileup that required a red flag with 20 laps to go. When the race resumed Johnson, restarted first and had to battle a determined Earnhardt, who pulled slightly ahead of his teammate before Johnson passed Earnhardt never to be challenged again.

"This thing was just bad fast," Johnson said. "I had a blast racing with the No. 4 (Harvick). He was awfully strong today. I think track position there at the end just kind of set things in place. We had the restart we needed to and cleared the No. 88 (Earnhardt Jr.) and off we went."

Johnson was forced to start 37th when he had an issue getting through technical inspection during qualifying Friday and failed to post a lap.

Also starting in the back was Harvick, who qualified second but was forced to change motors after losing an engine in practice Saturday. Despite the setback, Harvick -- the defending Sprint Cup champion -- led a race-high 116 laps.

"As a driver, you look at this place that you have options -- you know you can pass people," Harvick said. "There's a lot of places you go to you're going to get stuck, you're going to have the aero push, have a harder time with it than you will here.

"It was a lot of fun coming up through there. Jimmie was right up in front of me coming up through the pack. We made it to 13th or 14th on the first run in about 20 laps. It was fun. I was looking forward to it."

Rounding out the top 10 were Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Brett Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman.

A relatively clean race was marred by a pair of multi-car crashes over the final 67 laps.

The first occurred when Denny Hamlin lost control on the backstretch and spun in front of the field following a restart. In the chain-reaction, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman were all collected with Gordon slamming into a concrete wall not protected by a SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier.

Gordon wasn't injured, but angry about the wall not being covered by a protective barrier. Last week Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot when he hit a concrete wall lacking a SAFER barrier at Daytona International Speedway.

The second multi-car incident broke out 44 laps later when Greg Biffle was clipped by Joe Nemechek in Turn 3. Six drivers were involved.

The win was Johnson's first of 2015 and the 71st of his career. Sunday's victory all but guarantees him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"I think it is pretty much a lock as long as we have a smooth season," said Johnson of his playoff chances. "I think if we win a second one, it is definitely a lock. But this takes a ton of pressure off."