Jimmie Johnson used strategy and speed to perfection Saturday night and breezed to a relatively easy victory in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Johnson led every lap of the closing 10-lap dash for the cash and finished in front of Brad Keselowski to claim his third win – and a $1 million-plus payday – in the All-Star event.
“It’s all about the restart,” Keselowski said. “The high line on the restart just wouldn’t go. I thought I could do something with him (Johnson). We got beat by a five-time champ and two-time All-Star winner. I want that one more spot. We just weren’t able to pull it off tonight.”
Completing the top five at the finish were Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“This race car was so amazing,” Johnson said. “I put it up on the outside at the start of the first heat and let it rip around the top and take the lead.”
The No. 48 team is on a roll. Johnson won the Southern 500 last week at Darlington Raceway to score Hendrick’s 200th Sprint Cup victory. The team also won the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge this week.
The winners of the race’s first four segments – Johnson, Kenseth, Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. – lined up at the front for the final restart. None of those following Johnson had a shot at him as he bolted to a strong lead at the drop of the green.
The post-race celebration took an unusual turn as Johnson picked up team owner Rick Hendrick and gave him a victory ride along the frontstretch on the side of the winning car.
Earnhardt Jr. roared to the lead in the night’s fourth segment, and Keselowski led the third after turning back a strong challenge from Kasey Kahne. They ran side by side to the finish line, Keselowski edging Kahne by about a foot.
Completing the top five in the segment were Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.
The race’s second segment was led by Kenseth, who passed Denny Hamlin to move to the front.
Parked during the second segment was the Ford of Carl Edwards, who blew the engine in the No. 99. Edwards won the race last year.
Greg Biffle, Edwards’ Roush Fenway Racing teammate, blew his engine during the fourth segment.
Johnson roared to the front on lap 15, passing pole winner Kyle Busch, and led the first 20-lap segment.
The opening segment saw some tight racing. Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick exchanged a little paint during the run, and one of the bumpups between the two resulted in Harvick slamming the outside wall.
Halfway through the segment, Tony Stewart bounced off the wall.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.