Johnson, the Sprint Cup points leader, rebounded from the first last-place start of his career Sunday to finish sixth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The five-time Cup champion had qualified second until the No. 48 Chevrolet flunked inspection, sending him to back of the field. Yes, even 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd started two spots ahead of Johnson.
But it didn't last long. Johnson quickly moved up from 43rd to hanging around the 20s early in the race. He was able to pass Shepherd, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, the kind of drivers who are normally stuck in the back of the pack.
"We just had to do it the old-fashioned way," Johnson said. "Just drive up through there and pass a lot of cars and we were able to get pretty far up there."
Johnson, who won last week at Daytona, has a 56-point lead over Clint Bowyer in the standings. He was never in contention, but he made the most of a bad situation.
"We wanted to make today a non-issue," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "That's exactly what we did. We didn't need to win today. But the most important thing is, we didn't need to lose. I think we came out of here with a solid run."