Johnson captures record fourth All-Star race
Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus again proved they can master any format for the NASCAR All-Star race.
Johnson overcame a poor starting position with an early charge, came out of the pits second for the start of the final 10-lap segment and rolled to a record fourth victory in the $1 million to win exhibition event.
“That was incredible,” Johnson said. “I was fearful that we wouldn’t have a shot at it after my mistake in qualifying and put us in the back. But through aggressive driving and good pit work, we got there.”
Joey Logano finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch.
The Busch brothers each won two of the first four segments, putting them 1-2 coming into the pits for mandatory stops before the final segment in the 90-lap event. But their crews came up short as the Hendrick Motorsports teams of Johnson and Kahne put them in front.
Kahne and Johnson came in third and fourth with Logano fifth. Johnson needed just a lap to clear Kahne and wasn’t challenged the rest of the way as he became the second driver to win the All-Star event in consecutive years while breaking a tie with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt for most All-Star victories.
Kyle Busch bobbled in turn one after the restart and fell briefly to sixth. By the time he recovered, his chances of winning were gone.
“It was another opportunity lost when we had the best car with me driving,” Kyle Busch said.
A year earlier, Johnson won while taking advantage of a system that let him come into the pits first before the final segment as reward for winning the first segment. He then ran conservatively until the last segment. That led to this year’s format that used the average finish for each driver to determine the pitting order at the end.
This time, he started near the rear of the 22-car field after blowing through his pit during qualifying on Friday, Johnson finished just 16th after the first 20 laps, which included a red flag for rain. But he was fifth after the second segment, third after the third segment and third after the fourth segment.
His crew made the sterling final stop despite changes in the crew this season. The final 10 laps was the only time that he led.
“We felt if we were in top five we would be solid,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “I didn’t think we would have a stop that fast.”
Johnson said that the feeling was that he needed to start the final segment on the front row to have a chance of winning.
“That’s the way it is on these fast tracks,” Johnson said. “That’s why I needed to make something happen early. I didn’t in the first segment because Brad Keselowski had a problem. But we were able to in the second and third segments.”
The event was relatively tame, with only accident coming in the 25th lap as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bounced off the wall coming out of turn four and shot into Mark Martin, causing Martin to spin.
Brad Keselowski was the only driver who did not finish, the victim of a transmission failure on lap two.