CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson earned a record-tying third NASCAR Sprint All-Star victory on Saturday after leading the entire final 10-lap shootout. Team owner Rick Hendrick greeted Johnson after his celebratory burnout and joined the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet on his trip to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“He said, ‘Come pick me up,’ said Johnson, whose three wins now rank him tied for first all-time with teammate Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. “But once I got there, he didn’t want the ride anymore. I told him, ‘No, you’ve got to get on.’”
And just like that, Hendrick climbed halfway in the No. 48 Chevrolet and caught a ride to Victory Lane, where Johnson admitted he didn’t want this magical week to stop. The victory marks the fourth straight “win” for Hendrick Motorsports. Since recording its 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup win on May 12 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports has rattled off three more victories in non-points events. On Thursday, the No. 48 team earned the first NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Championship for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led every lap in the preliminary Sprint Showdown to earn a spot in Saturday’s All-Star Race, and Johnson cruised to the exhibition win after dominating the final 10-lap segment.
“From winning last weekend, getting that 200th win at Darlington, to taking this Lowe’s team down to win the Pit Crew competition on Thursday to coming out here tonight – we had a strategy,” Johnson said. “The race car was so amazing. I just let it rip around the top, and we made sure we worked on the car and got it right so we could be good at the end.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of the fourth segment, joined Johnson in the top 10 with a fifth-place finish, while Kasey Kahne took ninth. Jeff Gordon drove his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet to a 13th-place finish.
Johnson climbed from his sixth-place starting spot to run third within the first five laps. On Lap 10, he was chasing then-leader Kyle Busch, and by Lap 15, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet was the new race leader. Johnson checked out for the remainder of the circuit and spent the next three 20-lap segments running in the back of the pack to conserve his car.
Kahne, who lined up from the outside pole position during the third segment, made his presence known in the ensuing 20-lap circuit. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet battled for the lead and used a strong run off Turns 3 and 4 in the final lap to race with Brad Keselowski. NASCAR reported that Keselowski won the segment by .006 seconds.
Earnhardt followed Kahne’s strong run by posting one of his own. The driver of the No. 88 The Dale Jr. Foundation/Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet lined up third for the final 20-lap segment and took the lead on Lap 64, bringing the crowd to its feet at Charlotte. Earnhardt maintained the lead after a brief caution period and prepared to line up fourth for the pit stop and final 10-lap shootout.
Johnson won the opening segment, while Earnhardt captured the fourth 20-lap feature. But Johnson also benefited from having the best pit stall after his crew won the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge on Thursday. The prime pit location helped Johnson maintain his position as the leader for the restart with 10 laps to go.
During the stop, drivers were just required to stop briefly in their pit boxes. Johnson and Earnhardt stopped without incident and made it back out for the restart in their same positions – Johnson lined up first, while Earnhardt took fourth.
Coming to the green flag, Johnson made a clean restart and immediately distanced himself from the field. Earnhardt restarted on older tires and struggled to maintain his footing with the leaders. Earnhardt’s fifth-place finish gives the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet optimism looking ahead to next weekend’s 600-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
“The car was good,” Earnhardt said. “I want to thank all the people that donated to The Dale Jr. Foundation. Thanks to my sponsors Diet Mountain Dew and National Guard – they donated the hood so we could raise awareness for the Foundation. I want to thank Chevrolet and Sprint and NASCAR for putting on this thing. It’s a lot of fun. We had an awesome crowd here, but the race was good.
“The car was pretty quick all night and all day yesterday. I’m proud of our effort tonight, and I’m looking forward to next weekend.”
The Sprint Cup Series next will run in the 600-mile event at Charlotte on May 27.