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Jimmie Johnson hoped to follow up his win in the previous weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race with a victory in the 600-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The five-time champion wasn’t able to pull off the back-to-back wins but did exactly what he needed to do, managing his equipment in a race known for its attrition and overcoming some late-race issues to finish 22nd in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS.
Johnson started 12th at 1.5-mile oval in the series’ longest race of the season. A victory would have made him the all-time winningest driver at the track, breaking a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip with six victories each. And while that didn’t happen, Johnson was able to maintain his lead in the point standings, 32 ahead of second-place Carl Edwards.
“There’s so much that can go wrong in this race,” said Johnson, who has six wins at Charlotte (May 2003, 2004 season sweep, October 2005 and 2009) in 23 starts. “Unfortunately, a lot of it seemed to happen to us and the Lowe’s Chevy. We didn’t have a car that could win but we were a top-five car. We were able to maintain the point lead so that’s good. Just want to wish everyone a happy Memorial Day and thank all of those that serve our country and thank Lowe’s for donating my race winnings to the Red Cross for those affected by the tornadoes.”
Johnson spent most of the race running in the sixth position. With a race that begins in the daylight and ends at night, changing track conditions are always an issue for drivers and Johnson was no exception. During the first part of the race he complained of a loose Lowe’s Chevy.
A bizarre incident with a camera cable brought the field down pit road for a 15-minute repair session. Johnson had some right rear fender damage but nothing catastrophic. Johnson did notice that his voltage was fluctuating. NASCAR did not allow the team to change the alternator and the race resumed with Johnson in his characteristic sixth position.
As the laps wore on, Johnson noted that his machine had turned tight. By the halfway point, however, Johnson was loose again and radioed to crew chief Chad Knaus that he’d like some stability in traffic. The team worked the latter part of the race, making adjustments to make the car comfortable for Johnson. On lap 302, Johnson came down pit road for service, while leaving pit road, the caution came out putting him a lap down. He got the wave around to restart on the tail end of the lead lap in 14th. However, before going back green, Knaus brought Johnson down to change the battery that was believed to be the source of the voltage fluctuation.
Numerous cautions in the closing laps brought Johnson down pit road several times. After a red flag on lap 326, Johnson came down for fuel only and restarted 10th but just a few laps later, Johnson made contact on track, causing extensive damage to the Lowe’s Chevy. The crew made repairs but Johnson restarted 17th and spent the remaining laps trying to keep his Lowe’s machine underneath him, eventually finishing 22nd.
Kevin Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Charlotte.
Kasey Kahne finished 1.49 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 61 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race. The race was delayed three times for separate incidents which forced NASCAR to display the red flag. The first two of the three red-flag periods were for a camera cable that fell on the track and caused damage to a handful of cars. The first red flag was displayed for 10 minutes and 40 seconds with the second following quickly after the first and lasting 16 minutes and 22 seconds. The third red flag was displayed for an accident on lap 327, delaying the racing action for nine minutes and 13 seconds.
With round 12 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent as well as the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 445 points put him 32 ahead of second-place Edwards. Kahne occupies fifth-place with 370 points, 75 out of first, 35 ahead of 10th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sixth with 364 points, 81 out of first, 29 ahead of 10th. Jeff Gordon is 15th with 320 points, 125 behind Johnson.
Fourteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks on Sunday, June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.