LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson absolutely dominated Sunday at Pocono Raceway for his third victory of the season, securing an automatic berth in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Even during his championship run, Johnson rarely cruised like he did in the Party in the Poconos 400 on the 2½-mile triangle track. Johnson, the Sprint Cup points leader, pulled away on both of the last two restarts over the final 10 laps to pull into Pocono’s Victory Lane for the first time since he swept both races in 2004.
‘‘Jimmie’s switched on right now,’’ crew chief Chad Knaus said. ‘‘He’s as good or better as I’ve ever seen him.’’
Johnson also won the Daytona 500 and at Martinsville Speedway this season. He led 128 of 160 laps for his 63d career Cup victory, and was never seriously challenged a week after 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.’’
Greg Biffle was second and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s teammate, was third. 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.’’
Johnson started first and won from the pole after rain washed out qualifying Friday.
He could be celebrating back-to-back wins had it not been for a pass-through penalty last week in the final laps at Dover. NASCAR penalized him for jumping leader Juan Pablo Montoya off the restart with 19 laps left and he finished 17th.
It was a rare misstep for the five-time champion but he rebounded at Pocono. 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 one more time with four to go.
‘‘He’s one of the best drivers this sport has ever seen,’’ Earnhardt said.
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.’’
Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10.
Johnson 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.
For all his success, Johnson never takes it for granted.
‘‘There are no guarantees we’ll win again, there really aren’t,’’ he said. ‘‘The sport moves so fast.’’
At Pocono, the No. 48 led the way.