In beating Brad Keselowski to the finish of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway by .841 seconds, Johnson won the exhibition event for the third time, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for most all-time.
Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified for the event by winning the preliminary Sprint Showdown.
The All-Star Race win and accompanying seven-figure first prize ended a spectacular eight days for Johnson, who delivered victory No. 200 to owner Rick Hendrick May 12 at Darlington and on Thursday night cheered his crew to its first victory in the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte, N.C.
All told, Johnson won $1,071,340 for his third win in 11 All-Star starts.
“It means a ton to me,” Johnson said of tying Earnhardt Sr. and Gordon. “Those are two of the greatest drivers that have ever been in a stock car. I want to set my goals high, and I want to be considered one of the best to sit in a stock car, and the only way you can do that is by winning big races and piling up those stats.”
The All-Star Race victory was the seventh as a car owner for Hendrick, who sat on the window ledge and took a ride on Johnson’s winning Chevrolet after the race.
“That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in racing,” quipped Hendrick, who caught his foot in the dash while straddling the window.
Johnson was the first to stake his claim to a top spot in the running order, winning the first 20-lap segment after passing polesitter Kyle Busch for the top spot on Lap 15. In winning the first segment, Johnson earned the right to lead the field to pit road before the final 10-lap dash.
Thereafter, Johnson made frequent pit stops and ran behind the rest of the field to save his car for the finish.
“I let it rip around the top and got to the lead, and we were smart from there and made sure we worked on the car and got it right so we could be there at the end,” Johnson said. “Within two corners tonight — as I was on the outside, which is usually the place you don’t want to be — I knew it was on.
“I was able to get to the lead in that first segment and really set our night in the right direction and have control of the night. Everybody knew that, if you could win that first segment, you could control the night, and we were able to do that starting sixth, so it was pretty awesome.”
Keselowski thought Johnson showed his hand in the first segment.
“He started sixth, I believe, and drove to the lead in 20 laps,” Keselowski said. “I think that’s probably a pretty good indicator of the strength of his car. I don’t believe he passed anyone that was not good. We’ll just leave it at that.
“He passed Kyle, I think Denny (Hamlin), maybe (Kevin) Harvick. (Ryan) Newman. Those aren’t slouches that he passed, and he passed them in 20 laps. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of the strength of his effort. Whether that’s car or driver, I’ll let you all figure that out. That’s a pretty good indicator he was the guy to beat all night.”
Kenseth passed Hamlin with three laps left in the second segment and secured the win in that leg. Like Johnson, Kenseth spent segment No. 3 running at the back while Keselowski and Kasey Kahne waged an intense battle for the win.
Kahne got a strong run from the high line through Turns 3 and 4, but Keselowski held on to win the segment by .006 seconds.
Earnhardt won segment No. 4 by 1.618 seconds over Marcos Ambrose. After the 20-lap run ended, Johnson, Kenseth, Keselowski and Earnhardt entered pit road in that order, took no tires or gas and came out in those same top four positions for the final 10-lap run.
Of the top four drivers, Keselowski and Kenseth had the freshest tires, having stopped under caution for Greg Biffle’s blown engine on Lap 73. But Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was the class of the field and pulled away for the win in an anomalous All-Star race that did not see a single caution for a racing accident.
Though Earnhardt transferred into the main event with a decisive victory in the Sprint Showdown, the compelling story of the preliminary event was polesitter AJ Allmendinger’s run from the back of the field to the second transfer spot after pitting with a flat tire coming to green at the start of the race.
Allmendinger took four tires during a pit stop between the Showdown’s two 20-lap segments, and the new rubber paid off. After two cars dropped out between segments and three others went to the rear because of pit road penalties, Allmendinger restarted 13th.
From the drop of the green flag on Lap 21, Allmendinger surged forward, finally passing Jamie McMurray for the second position with a hard run off Turn 2 on Lap 39 of 40.
“Jamie’s real good—he knows how to get around this place,” Allmendinger said. “He kept making sure he got good exit shots. Finally, he just got off the bottom a little bit. At that point, I wasn’t going to lift. I didn’t care if we all wreck, if I got into him or what.
“These guys on this Pennzoil Dodge, this Penske organization, they belong in this race. They deserve it more than I do. I was going to do everything I could to get ‘em in, or I was going to die trying.”
Allmendinger finished third in the fourth segment of the All-Star Race, but a four-tire call on the final pit stop dropped him to the back of the field. Allmendinger charged to 11th before time ran out.