Jimmie Johnson wins at Charlotte
By Jessica Ruffin
CONCORD, N.C. – With 17 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson lined up third for the final restart of the night at Charlotte (North Carolina) Motor Speedway. After returning to green-flag racing, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS immediately began his charge toward the top spot. He steadily closed in on the leader, and ultimately advanced to the top position with eight laps to go. He was able to hold onto the lead and take the checkered flag in the 600-mile event.
Johnson’s victory tonight was his seventh win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which breaks a tie for the most all-time wins at the North Carolina oval. His last win at Charlotte came in October 2009, when he won his second of three races starting from the pole position. Johnson’s win gave Hendrick Motorsports its 18th Cup win at the 1.5-mile speedway, ranking first all-time among all teams. His win also virtually guarantees him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne joined Johnson in the top 14, finishing seventh and 14th, respectively, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. experienced a late-race issue and finished 19th.
Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports teams fared in the 600-mile event:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE "THANK A MILLION TEACHERS" CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: 14th
RECAP: Kasey Kahne rolled off the grid third at the 1.5-mile speedway and continued to race in the top five for the first 26 laps of the 600-mile event. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance “Thank A Million Teachers” Chevrolet SS ran in the top 10 for the first 35 laps of the race. Unfortunately for the No. 5 team, Kahne was blocked in by a competitor on pit road and was unable to enter his pit box during the first rounds of green-flag pit stops. He was forced to come down pit road again, causing him to fall back to the 28th position. Kahne also began to experience issues with his front end, which crew chief Kenny Francis addressed at his next pit stop at Lap 96. The adjustments, along with consistent and fast lap times, seemed to help, as Kahne cracked the top 15 by Lap 138. Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy SS continued to run fast, as he clocked faster lap times than the race leader around the halfway point. At Lap 265, Kahne was running 18th, but told Francis he was experiencing a loose-handling condition. The four-time Charlotte winner battled through the handling issue, moving into the 14th position by Lap 383, where he finished at the 1.5-mile track.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Seventh
RECAP: Jeff Gordon started the 600-mile event from the middle of the field and immediately began his forward march. By Lap 19, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS had already moved up 10 positions from his 27th starting spot. Gordon had cracked the top 10 by Lap 62, passing a competitor for ninth place. An efficient pit stop and solid restart at Lap 112 gave Gordon the ammunition to crack the top five by Lap 114. Gordon continued to race in the top five, telling crew chief Alan Gustafson that his No. 24 Chevy SS was getting better as the race continued. By Lap 210, the five-time Charlotte winner had cracked the top 10. Spotter Eddie D’Hondt told Gordon that his No. 24 Chevy SS was the fastest car on the track, as Gordon moved into position four at Lap 262. With 51 laps to go, Gordon was running in the top three with leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Gordon stayed out of pit road during a late-race caution, which allowed him to take the lead with 20 laps to go. He lined up second with 17 laps to go for the final restart of the night and crossed the finish line seventh.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: First
RECAP: Jimmie Johnson started the 600-mile event from the pole position and showed no intention of giving up his top spot. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS held onto his top spot for 49 laps and continued to race in the top three after that. At Lap 127, Johnson told crew chief Chad Knaus that his patriotic-themed No. 48 Chevy SS felt loose on Turns 1 and 2. To combat the issue, Knaus tightened up the car during a yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 150 and a solid restart four laps later put Johnson in the top position once again. At Lap 214, Johnson told Knaus that he may have a tire coming apart and was forced to pit early under a green flag. Undaunted, the six-time Charlotte winner made his way back into the top five by Lap 238 after staying out of pit road during a cycle of yellow-flag pit stops. He cracked the top three again at Lap 267. Johnson was on pit road when the caution flag was waved at Lap 274, which allowed him to take the lead for the seventh time that night. Johnson maneuvered his No. 48 Chevy SS through the top 10 until Lap 345, when he moved back into the top position. He lined up third for the final restart of the night with 17 laps to go and charged his No. 48 Chevy SS to the front. He held onto the lead to take the checkered flag, giving the No. 48 team its first win of the season.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/SUPERMAN CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: 19th
RECAP: After qualifying 10th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. immediately began his forward march at the 1.5-mile speedway. By Lap 21, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Superman Chevrolet SS had moved into the eighth position, cracking the top five by Lap 41. Despite his good track position, Earnhardt told crew chief Steve Letarte around Lap 62 that he was battling a tight-handling condition. As the race unfolded, the No. 88 team made continual adjustments during pit stops, which helped Earnhardt remain in the top 10. Earnhardt made his way back into the top five by Lap 189 and cracked the top three at Lap 205. He became the race leader after staying out of pit road during a cycle of yellow-flag pit stops at Lap 226, leading for 13 laps. Earnhardt continued to move through the top 10 and was running third by Lap 273. Earnhardt’s good luck seemed to run out at Lap 311, when he was forced to make a trip to pit road for a possible vibration. The unexpected stop caused Earnhardt to fall to 26th. He gained back several positions and held on to finish 19th at the 1.5-mile track.