CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Cross another milestone off of Jimmie Johnson’s list. He stands alone in All-Star history.
“Five-time” became the first four-time winner of NASCAR’s annual All-Star race, breaking a tie with the late Dale Earnhardt and teammate Jeff Gordon on Saturday night.
“To beat Jeff and Earnhardt, two guys that I have looked up to my whole life, two massive icons of our sport, this means the world to me,” Johnson said.
He also joined the late Davey Allison as only the second driver to win back-to-back All-Star races.
It was fitting that he did it at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the track Johnson, the five-time NASCAR champion, has dominated since his 2002 rookie season. Johnson has won six points races at Charlotte, led more than 1,600 laps and the win in the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race was his second straight, fourth in 12 years. He also won in 2003 and 2006.
“The only four-time All-Star champion — I am very proud of you,” crew chief Chad Knaus radioed after Johnson took the checkered flag.
A day after Johnson overshot his pit stall during qualifying to earn a poor starting spot, his Hendrick Motorsports crew changed four tires in 11 seconds on the mandatory final spot to send Johnson back onto the track in second place for the final restart.
He lined up inside of teammate Kasey Kahne for the final 10-lap sprint to the cash, and the two battled side-by-side for a little more than a lap before Johnson cleared Kahne completely. He then sailed away to an easy victory.
“We are doing great things and we are amazing ourselves in the process,” Johnson said.
Joey Logano finished second and Kyle Busch, who won two of the first four segments, was third as neither had a shot at running down Johnson once he got his No. 48 Chevrolet out front.
“The 48, once he got that clean air, he was gone,” Logano said. “Second isn’t anything to hang your head, but it’s about the million bucks tonight.”
Kahne faded to fourth and Kurt Busch, who also won two segments to give the Busch brothers a sweep, was fifth.
It was disappointing for both Busch brothers, who had the cars to beat through the first 80 laps. New scoring rules designed to stop sandbagging sent the drivers onto pit road for the mandatory final stop in order of their average finish in the first four segments.
The Busch brothers tied with an average finish of 2.0, and Kurt went down pit road as the leader based on the tiebreaker of winning the final segment.
But the two Hendrick cars beat everybody off pit road, Kyle Busch exited in third and a poor final pit stop dropped Kurt to fifth.
“Ultimately, it came down to pit road, where my guys always prove their worth,” Kyle Busch said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best of stops and to come out third, well, that was the race right there. You have to be on the front row if you’re going to win this thing.”
Johnson didn’t think he had a shot at winning the All-Star race after botching his qualifying run and starting 20th in the 22-car field. By staying patient through the four 20-lap segments, he was in position at the end to make his move.
“Worked our way through there and got the job done,” Johnson said. “It’s just dedication and drive from every member of this Hendrick Motorsports team. When we started on the front row for the last segment, I knew we had a great shot at it.”
The win capped a big day for Chevrolet, which swept the first 10 spots in Indianapolis 500 qualifying shortly before racing began at Charlotte. Then Johnson, the current Sprint Cup points leader, put the manufacturer in Victory Lane.
Jamie McMurray won the 40-lap Sprint Showdown before the All-Star race to transfer into the main event, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished second to earn the other berth.
Danica Patrick won the Sprint fan vote to claim the last open spot in the race. It wasn’t a big surprise that Patrick won the vote — her fans last year elected her most popular driver of the Nationwide Series — and her public relations team was ready with a “Thank You Fans” bumper sticker she slapped on the side of her Chevrolet before the All-Star race began. She finished 20th.
Before the race, she said she wasn’t sure why her fans so ardently support her.
“I’ve said many times that I’m not sure what it is people like or see in me or why they cheer for me,” Patrick said. “To some degree being different, being a girl, there are things there. But what is it? There are a lot of different and unique drivers out there. All I know is that I try do my best to be myself all of the time. I try to be honest with the fans and at the end of the day, even if they don’t agree with what I say or do, they can respect my honesty.”
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