The Brothers Busch won the first four segments of Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but Jimmie Johnson took the one the counted—the 10-lap dash to the finish—and continued to build his legacy, not to mentioned his bank account.
Speeding away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne after a restart on Lap 81 of 90, Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all-star exhibition race for a record fourth time, beating charging Joey Logano to the stripe by 1.722 seconds.
Kyle Busch, who won the second and third segments of 20-laps each, ran third, followed by Kahne and Kurt Busch. The elder Busch brother won the first and fourth segments and was first onto pit road before the final dash but exited fifth with a less-than-stellar pit stop.
Despite changes to his pit crew this week, Johnson’s over-the-wall gang performed an 11-second pit stop that got him out of the pits on the front row, beside Kahne, for the final restart. Ultimately, that made all the difference.
With the victory, Johnson broke a tie with teammate Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for most wins in the non-points race, won his second straight All-Star Race and collected $1 million for his efforts.
“To beat Jeff and Earnhardt, two guys I’ve looked up to my whole life—two massive icons of our sport—this means the world to me,” said Johnson, who started 18th after sliding through his pit box and drawing a penalty for a loose lug nut during Friday’s qualifying session.
“I really didn’t think we had a shot at winning tonight, starting (18th), but we had a great race car and worked our way through there and got the job done. Over time, honestly, it’s just dedication and drive from every member at Hendrick Motorsports, every member on this No. 48 team. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we know we’ve got to keep pushing harder and pushing one another.”
Kyle Busch thought he had the fastest car, but a slower-than-usual four-tire stop put his No. 18 Toyota on the second row for the final restart.
“We just didn’t get the best pit stop there at the end to get us out on the front row, and when you’re back behind cars, you’re getting beat up on,” Busch said. “It is what it is. We’ll just take this as a good learning day and hopefully bring back some speed like this to the (Coca-Cola) 600 (May 26).”
NASCAR’s luck with weather held Saturday night, with a large enough window to complete the race with just one delay.
With Kurt Busch leading from the outset, NASCAR called a caution because of rain after Lap 8 and red-flagged the race after 13 laps when the shower intensified. The drivers came to pit road, parked in their stalls and waited.
The rain didn’t come soon enough, however, to save reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski. On the second lap, transmission troubles sent his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford to the garage.
“Something just broke in the back half of the drive train, either the transmission or drive shaft gear – I’m not sure which one – but it’s one of those deals, unfortunately,” Keselowski said. “We’ll try to learn from it and move on.”
With Keselowski in the garage, the race resumed after a stoppage of 41 minutes 28 seconds. Kurt Busch pulled away from brother Kyle Busch to win the first 20-lap segment by .751 seconds.
Kyle Busch kept the second segment in the family, pulling away from Clint Bowyer after a restart on Lap 29—after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bounced off the Turn 4 wall and knocked Mark Martin for a loop through the grass in the quad-oval.
Jamie McMurray led wire-to-wire to win the Sprint Showdown and transfer into the main event. McMurray, who started second, took two tires during the halfway competition caution after 20 laps and pulled away to beat Cup rookie Stenhouse to the finish line by 1.226 seconds.
Stenhouse transferred into the All-Star Race as the second-place finisher. His romantic interest, Danica Patrick, finished ninth in the Showdown but punched her ticket into the All-Star Race as the winner of the Sprint Fan vote.
“Obviously being out front is massive,” McMurray said during the break between the Showdown and the main event. “When I got by (polesitter) Martin (Truex Jr.) at the start of the race… I was trying to take it easy because I didn’t know with the track being green how quickly the tires would fall off, and even running at like 80 percent it was amazing what a difference just being in clean air was.
“I had a really good car in practice (Friday). I thought honestly the 56 (Truex) and I had the two best cars looking at times yesterday, and then the two tire stop was the right call for us. It got us up front.”
McMurray’s words proved prophetic. Being out front for the final 10-lap run was crucial to Johnson’s record run.