Richard Petty Motorsports Sonoma 350 Race Report
Sonoma 350 Results:
1: Kevin Harvick
22: Billy Johnson, No. 43 Smithfield Ford
Ford Performance road course racer Billy Johnson filled in for the injured Aric Almirola at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. Making his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start, Johnson utilized two practice sessions on Friday to get used to the No. 43 Smithfield Ford. He qualified on Saturday and earned the 26th starting spot. He quickly worked up to 24th before the first caution on Lap 16 for an incident in Turn 11. Johnson said he was working on managing forward drive, but overall, he was happy with the Fusion’s handling.
Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called for a four-tire pit stop with no adjustments, and Johnson restarted 29th. He again raced up to 24th before Blickensderfer made a strategy call to pit four laps before the end of the stage. Unfortunately, the car developed a vibration in the right, front. The team utilized the caution at the stage break to pit and determine the problem. After pitting for four tires, the team surmised that it was a loose wheel. Johnson restarted 35th and again worked his way up. An incident in Turn 4 brought out the caution on Lap 32 with the No. 43 in 34th. Electing to stay out, the team restarted 29th.
Johnson began moving through the field and drove into the 22nd spot when debris in Turn 11 brought out the caution on Lap 40. Again, the team stayed out. The Smithfield Ford restarted 12th. Johnson drove as high as 11th but got front-end damage on Lap 45. The team stayed out on the track until the end of the stage in order to have more time to work on the car. Johnson finished Stage 2 in the 13th spot. He pit during the caution for four tires, and the team worked to fix the front-end damage. They lengthy stop gave him the 33rd spot on the restart.
The team tried to use pit strategy to get back to the front and waited until late in the race to make their last stop. Johnson raced up to the eighth spot before cars with fresher tires began to pass him. He gave up the 15th spot on Lap 77 to make his final pit stop. He returned to the track in the 30th position and methodically worked his way back through the field. He finished 22nd.
“I had a lot of fun out there and really appreciated the opportunity from Richard Petty Motorsports and Ford Performance,” said Johnson. “These cars drive so different on road courses. It was really difficult to find grip throughout a run. Drew (Blickensderfer) really helped me manage my tires and made some good pit strategy calls. Unfortunately, the race didn’t run the way we hoped, and we finished 22nd. I definitely learned a lot, but most importantly, I had fun and brought the car back in one piece.”
About Richard Petty Motorsports
A performance and marketing driven company, Richard Petty Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and successful business entrepreneur Andrew Murstein, is one of the most recognized brands in all of motorsports. With a history of over 200 wins and business partnerships with national and global leaders, today the race operation fields one team in competition in the NASCAR premier series with driver Aric Almirola. Almirola will return to the iconic No. 43 Ford with partners Smithfield Foods, STP, United States Air Force and Fresh From Florida. The team is headquartered in Mooresville, N.C.