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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Patriotic Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, looked to make it a May sweep at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Sunday night. After his team won the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge last Thursday, Johnson followed up with a dominant win in the non-points-paying Sprint All-Star Race two days later. This Sunday’s longest and most grueling race of the season was the only thing left to add. And while Johnson put himself in position to break out the brooms after starting third and running in the top-five for most of the race, a late pit-stop miscue spoiled the possibility and relegated Johnson to an 11th-place finish.
“We just made a couple of little mistakes on pit road tonight,” said Johnson, who last won the 600-mile race at Charlotte in 2005. “The one late, it took us out of a chance for a top-three there, but it happens. Last week, things couldn’t have gone any better. At Darlington, they were amazing. And then, this week, we had a few little issues. These guys will work their tails off this week and make sure we get those things corrected. We had a decent car – not the car we had last week. This track changes a lot from week to week, but I still think we would have had a very fair shot with the Lowe’s Chevrolet. But 11th is what it is.”
Johnson ran a fairly uneventful first half of the typically finicky 400-lap race, during which track conditions change considerably from beginning to end. He would spend the first 200 laps working on his Lowe’s Chevy with crew chief Chad Knaus. He fluctuated positions in the top-five and never fell out of the top-10 until the final pit stop of the night. The Johnson-Knaus duo worked to fine tune the Lowe’s Chevy in preparation for the last portion of the race.
The strategy worked for the first 300 laps. Knaus made adjustments that kept Johnson up front, setting the stage for a run at the lead in the final 100 laps. Knaus would bring Johnson down pit road on lap 321 for two right-side tires after a caution flag waved for debris on the track. Most of the field would do the same, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin stayed out. Johnson restarted fifth after the stop, leaving 75 laps remaining in the race.
On lap 340, Johnson radioed that the car was comfortable. All that was left was one final pit stop. It happened on lap 354. Johnson came down pit road for a routine stop, but the jack would drop with the gas can still in the car as Johnson left the pit box, dragging the can and the fueler with it outside the box. Johnson was issued a stop-and-go penalty and would retake the track in 15th, one lap down. He never regained his lap but would make up four spots to finish 11th.
Kasey Kahne won the 600-mile event to score his 13th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season, his fourth at Charlotte and his third 600-miler.
Hamlin finished 4.295 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 23 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
With round 12 of 36 complete, Earnhardt continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent in the championship point standings. He is fourth with 435 points, 18 back of series leader Greg Biffle. Johnson is fifth with 405 points, 48 points back. Kahne gained a spot in the standings after his win and is 15th with 330 points, 123 behind Biffle. Gordon is 22nd with 279 points, 174 out of first.