Seeking his fourth win in six races at Kansas, Johnson had to start 29th after the inspection issues and ran into more troubles in the race. 48 driver had a pit road penalty, made contact with Kurt Busch twice and also suffered a flat tire during the race.
He was in place for a top-10 finish but was 24th after spinning late.
His 14.3 average finish and 94.2 driver rating rank second-best among active drivers there.
Last summer's Coke Zero 400 winner and four-time Talladga victor Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who won the first stage of the Daytona 500, join Earnhardt as the top-three favorites for Saturday's race ( p.m. Here are the race odds according to 5Dimes Sportsbook: Since the spring Talladega race in 2016, Ford has won the past five restrictor-plate races which bodes well for Stewart Haas Racing, Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing and the Wood Brothers.
"Man, winning this race is the greatest feeling that you can feel in this sport, aside from accepting the trophy for the championship," Earnhardt said in victory lane.
"I didn't know if I would ever get the chance to feel that again, and it feels just as good, if not better, than the first because of how hard we tried year after year, finishing second all those years and wondering why." Earnhardt held off a pack of cars during a mad dash to the checkered flag after a restart with two laps to go.
Safety crews at Kansas Speedway had to peel back the front windshield of Almirola's car and help him from his vehicle after a fiery wreck with Joey Logano and Danica Patrick with just under 70 laps remaining.