Concord, NC – What a week it's been for driver Jimmie Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick.
Seven days after Johnson gave Hendrick Motorsports its 200th win in NASCAR's premier series at Darlington Raceway, the five-time series champion cruised to his record-tying third victory in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and collected a $1,071,340 award.
His No. 48 team also won the pit crew challenge on Thursday in Charlotte.
Johnson benefited from winning the first 20-lap segment in Saturday night's 90-lap all-star race. Under NASCAR's new format for this event, the winners of the first four 20-lap segments moved up to the front of the field before coming onto pit road for the mandatory pit stop prior to the start of the 10- lap shootout to the finish.
Matt Kenseth finished first in the second segment, Brad Keselowski in the third and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth. Johnson capitalized on pit strategy, as he pitted twice under caution after each of the first three segments had concluded.
Johnson, the first driver onto pit road, made a stop-and-go in his stall and then beat Kenseth out of the pits to take the lead for the final segment.
After the restart, Johnson easily pulled away from the field and then crossed the finish line 0.8 seconds ahead of runner-up Brad Keselowski.
"We had a strategy, and we knew what would be best for our team," Johnson said. "This race was so amazing. I put it up on the outside for the start of that first heat and let it rip around the top and got up to the lead. Then we were smart from there and made sure we worked on the car and got it right, so we could be good at the end."
After doing a celebratory burnout, Johnson picked up Hendrick on pit road. Johnson and Hendrick, who sat on the driver's side of the car, made an all- star salute to the fans in the grandstands along the frontstretch.
"He said, 'Come pick me up,' and once I got to him, he didn't want the ride, and I said, 'No, no, I came to get you. Get on the car'." Johnson noted. "It was great to take him around."
Johnson also won the all-star race in 2003 and '06. He tied Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for most victories in this event.
Hendrick's all-star celebration is one he'll never forget.
"That was the dumbest thing I've done ever in racing tonight," he said. "When I climbed in, I got my foot hung in the dash, had his knee pinned where he couldn't get to the clutch. I thought, I'm going to be like a busted watermelon out here."
Keselowski recorded his best finish in four all-star appearances.
"It's all about the restart," he said. "I was hoping we would get a [caution], so I could get another shot at Jimmie. I thought I could do something with him."
Kenseth wound up finishing third, while Kyle Busch, the pole sitter, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five. Earnhardt Jr. won The Sprint Showdown -- the 40-lap preliminary event -- earlier in the evening to earn the 21st starting position in the all-star race.
"The race was good," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We really didn't make adjustments to our car. It was pretty quick all night and all day [Friday]. You need to start on the front row at the end, especially to beat guys as good as that 48 team."
Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman finished sixth through 10th, respectively. Kahne had to start 20th in a backup car after wrecking his primary vehicle in Friday's qualifying session.
After edging Jamie McMurray for second place in the preliminary race, A.J. Allmendinger earned the 22nd starting spot. Allmendinger ran among the top- three late in the main event but faded in the closing laps to finish 11th.
Bobby Labonte claimed the final starting position in the 23-car field after winning the "fan vote." Labonte finished 19th.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who currently leads in the point standings, were the only two who did not finish due to engine failure.
On lap 68, Biffle's motor expired in spectacular fashion, as flames erupted underneath his car. He quickly pulled off on the infield grass and hopped out of the car unscathed. Biffle finished 22nd.
Edwards became the first competitor out of the race on lap 26.
"Fire is not good," Edwards said. "The car was going backwards a little bit, and I didn't know if we were leaking oil. It was really loose. I knew something wasn't right. I'm just glad that nobody ran me over, because this was a very fast race car."