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For the first 308 laps of the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson appeared poised to become the winningest driver ever at 1.5-mile oval. But a debris caution with a little more than 25 laps to go derailed those plans. Johnson exited the pits third and got shuffled to seventh-place on the ensuing restart. He battled for a few more positions in the closing laps to finish fourth.
The finish puts him four points behind Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Matt Kenseth, who finished third in the race. A victory would have made Johnson the all-time winningest driver at the track, breaking a tie at six wins with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. But Johnson instead settled for his12th top-five finish in 25 starts at Charlotte. The result also was his 13th top-five in 31 races this season.
Johnson’s fourth-place qualifying effort kept him up front early in the race. On lap 75, he led for the first of three times for a total of 130 laps. He pitted for service the next lap and reported that the Lowe’s Chevy was a little loose. Johnson was running in fourth place when he pitted on lap 174. On the ensuing restart, he managed to get by teammate Kasey Kahne for the lead. Johnson remained up front for the nearly the rest of the race, helped by consistent work in the pits by the No. 48 Lowe’s crew. With 50 laps to go, Johnson came down pit road for what was supposed to be the final stop of the evening. Gasman Brandon Harder got the car full of fuel, putting Johnson in position to lead the remainder of the race.
A debris caution on lap 308 changed those plans. Most of the leaders came down pit road, including Johnson. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for four tires, and Johnson was set to restart the race in third place. But on the ensuing restart, he got shuffled to seventh place. He battled in the remaining laps to make up those positions, ending up with a fourth-place run.
“Down in (turns) one and two, just in the dirty air, I pushed the No. 5 off into (turn) one,” Johnson said. “He didn’t get the best restart and something to do with that combo got me off the bottom, and a couple of cars got into the side of me. If we could have come out second, which was really close with the No. 24, and start on the front row I think it would have been a much different result for us, but it didn’t happen. We led some laps tonight, had a good car.”
Brad Keselowski won the Bank of America 500 to score his 10th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Charlotte.
Kahne finished 1.022 seconds behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Kenseth, Johnson and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were four caution periods for 20 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.
With five races remaining before a champion is crowned after the season finale Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the top-13 drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the sixth race of the 10-race Chase – is the Camping World RV Sales 500 Oct. 20 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.