CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson took full advantage of the new NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race rules, banking $1 million for his third victory in the prestigious event at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday evening.
Johnson won the first 20-lap segment, passing Kyle Busch on lap 16 and driving away. That victory guaranteed Johnson would be the first car down pit road during the mandatory pit stop prior to the final 10-lap segment.
A late caution flag in the fourth 20-lap segment allowed Johnson and fellow segment winners Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski to stop for fuel and four fresh tires. As a result they, along with segment four and Sprint Showdown winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., opted to simply do a quick stop and go on pit road during the mandatory stop.
Johnson came off pit road with the lead and got away from Kenseth and Keselowski during the restart. He was never challenged during the last 10 laps, which ran caution free.
The victory continued a hot streak for Johnson and the No. 48 team, who won the Bojangles Southern 500 last weekend. Johnson’s crew also won the Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte earlier this week.
“Winning last weekend, the 200th win at Darlington, then to take the Lowe’s team down to Bobcats Arena and win the Pit Crew Challenge, then come out here tonight,” Johnson said. “We had a strategy and we knew what would be best for our team.”
The big change to the All-Star Race this year was that the segment winners moved to the front of the line for the mandatory pit stop prior to the last 10 laps. After Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski won their segments they all fell far behind the pack to save their equipment and avoid any potential crashes.
The racing was hot and heavy near the front of the pack all night. The drivers knew how vital being at the front of the pack for those pit stops was going to be. But no one knew that better than Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus.
“I put it up on the outside there at the start of that first heat and just let it rip around the top and got up to the lead,” Johnson said. “We were smart from there and just made sure we worked on the car so we could be there at the end.”
After winning the race Johnson came down pit road and picked up team owner Rick Hendrick, who rode on Johnson’s drivers’ side door along the front stretch and waved to the fans.
“He said come pick me up and once I got to him he didn’t want the ride. I’m like, ‘No no, I came to get you. Get on the car,’” Johnson said. “It was great to take him around.”
Keselowski , who won segment three by inches over Kasey Kahne, was able to drive by Kenseth on the final restart, but he was never able to catch Johnson. He finished second for the second night in a row after getting beat by Justin Lofton in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
“It’s all about the restart,” Keselowski said. “I was hoping we’d get a yellow and I’d get another shot at Jimmie. We saw all night that the high line on the restart just wouldn’t go, so I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do anything, but I would have liked another shot.”
Kenseth, who won the second segment, ended the race in third position. Polesitter Kyle Busch and Earnhardt completed the top five.
Defending event winner Carl Edwards lost a motor 25 laps into the race and finished last in the 23-car field.