Attention, Sprint All-Star Race format architects – time to climb out of your Sunday morning beds and get back to work.
ALL-STAR Race Results
Jimmie Johnson has beaten you – and everyone else – again. Solidly.
Last year, there was the lead-a-segment, start-up-front setup. Johnson beat that system, coasted through much of the race, and won easily.
Last night, near the witching hour, Johnson was again the star of all-stars, powering through to lead all 10 laps in the final segment after finishing high enough in the other segments of the new format and enjoying a brisk pit stop. It was his record fourth win in the All-Star event.
He’s taking your money.
The only blemish on Johnson’s Saturday night victory was some confusion about how the field was lined up for the final – and critical – pit-stop sequence. Johnson’s average finish during the first four segments was fourth on the list, giving him the fourth spot in the lineup prior to the pit stops. But an erroneous television graphic listed him down in the order, sparking a backlash of protest from fans on social media after Johnson went on to win the race.
Johnson has heard similar complaints in the past. He’s clearly frustrated by them but brushed off the commentary in the confetti-filled glory of another big night.
“People just want to hate,” he said in response to a question about the complaints. “That's fine. That's fine. I'm just lucky. NASCAR rigs the races and whatever they want to believe. I'm going home with a cool trophy and a big check and we all really know what happened. So, whatever.”
Johnson and his team worked hard for Saturday’s win. In Friday qualifying, Johnson slid through his pit stall during the pit stop that was included in time trials, resulting in a slow overall speed and an 18th starting spot. It was a big hole to dig out of across the four 20-lap segments that set up the start for the 10-lap finale.
“With this average that we had through the first four segments (6.5), I was really fearful I wouldn't have a shot at a front‑row start or a second‑row start, and I felt like the winner would come from one of those two rows,” Johnson said. “Not to state the obvious, but that's really the goal from all of us is to try to be in that front row for the final restart.
“Through a lot of aggressive driving, a great handling race car and a lot of different things, Chad's (crew chief Chad Knaus) strategy at different times to have us on better tires than some cars that were around us, we were able to keep clicking away at good finishes through the second, third and fourth segment. That got us to fourth, and then pit road came around and our guys had an awesome pit stop. And we were almost off pit road first, but we were on the front row, and the front row is what we needed for 10 laps.”
Teammate Kasey Kahne narrowly beat Johnson off pit road to win the first starting spot for the 10-lap shootout, but Johnson, after some tense side-by-side racing, dropped Kahne to second and soon was counting the purse.
It totaled $1,039,175 – and more frustration for the pretenders to all-stardom.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.