CONCORD, N.C. — The longest winless drought of Jimmie Johnson’s career came to an end today with a dominant victory in the Queen City. The victory secures Johnson’s spot in the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The Bank of America 500 was scheduled to run on Saturday night of October 8, 2016. Torrential rain from Hurricane Matthew, however, postponed the race to Sunday.
Under clear blue skies, Kevin Harvick led the field to green at 12:05 p.m. He led the first 12 laps before ceding the lead to Chase Elliott on the 13th circuit. The first caution flew on lap 25. It was a scheduled competition caution. Five cars – 20, 27, 32 and 43 for crew over the wall too soon, and 46 for speeding – were sent to the tail end on the restart.
The race went back to green on lap 31. A two-car wreck brought out the next caution on lap 62. Alex Bowman was running second when he suffered a right-front tire blowout and slammed into Casey Mears in Turn 3.
Twenty laps after the lap 71 restart, Kyle Busch made an unscheduled stop from third for a right-front tire issue. Kyle Larson also made an unscheduled stop a few laps later for the exact same issue. A cycle of green flag stops started on lap 111, the lead changed from Elliott to Joey Logano and Logano brought out the third caution on lap 117 after suffering a right-front tire blowout and slamming the wall in Turn 2. This handed the lead to Johnson.
Denny Hamlin beat Johnson on the ensuing restart on lap 125 and assumed the lead. Harvick was in third when his car started sputtering and losing power on lap 156. On the same lap, Logano suffered another right-front tire blowout and slammed the wall in Turn 2 again the same lap to bring out the fourth caution.
After the restart on lap 162, Johnson worked on Hamlin and took the lead back on lap 177. He held the lead until the next round of green flag pit stops started on lap 213. The lead went as follows: Johnson, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and back to Johnson.
Debris on the frontstretch brought out the fifth caution on lap 228.
The race went back green with 98 laps to go. The sixth caution flew with 81 to go for AJ Allmendinger suffering a right-front tire blowout and slamming the wall in Turn 2.
On the ensuing restart with 76 to go, a multi-car wreck brought out the seventh caution and the red flag. Chase drivers Austin Dillon and Elliott were among those collected.
The penultimate green flag stretch went for 43 laps before the eighth caution flew for Hamlin’s engine letting go on the frontstretch. Matt Kenseth exited pit road ahead of Johnson.
On the final restart with 18 to go, however, Johnson edged out Kenseth to take the lead and drove on to score the victory.
“We knew we would be back; it was just slower than we thought it would be,” Johnson said in the media center after the race. “We feel like the day conditions helped us and the Sun definitely helped. This has opened up some opportunities for us now. It’s just fantastic, we can race hard now. We take (the Chase) day at a time and one race at a time. I still feel like we can bring better race cars to the track. We can’t sit back and celebrate too much. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at work.”
It’s his 78th career victory in 537 Sprint Cup Series starts, his third of the season, eighth in 19th starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 19th top-10 finish in 31 races in 2016.
It also ends a 24-race winless drought, the longest of his NASCAR career.
When asked if he was starting to think if he would ever win again, he said he “didn’t wonder, I just knew it was taking way too long. When you drive for Rick Hendrick and have all the great people at Hendrick Motorsports working for you, the great support from Lowe’s and everyone in their stores and Chevrolet…..there are just so many great people behind us and that support us to make this happen. We knew we would get back. Yes, it was slower than we wanted it to be but to be here today and have this victory is great.
“This is something very special to our team.”
Kenseth led five laps and overcame being sent to the rear on the initial start for unapproved adjustments and an early penalty for his crew being over the wall too soon to finish runner-up in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
On his team fighting back to a second-place finish, he said that his crew “did a great job. Honestly, last two years in a row pretty much Charlotte has kind of taken us out of the Chase – mostly my doing, different things happening the last couple years here – so had a lot of problems last year, this year we had a lot of problems again, but we were able to kind of rebound from them and just kind of take our time. We knew it was a long day and they had good pit stops, good strategy and got us back where we needed to be there at the end.”
Kasey Kahne rounded out the podium in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Ryan Newman led one lap on his way to a fourth-place finish in his No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Larson overcame his tire issue to round out the top-five in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
Busch, who led one lap, also overcame his tire issue to finish sixth in his No. 18 JGR Toyota. Brad Keselowski finished seventh in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Kurt Busch finished eighth in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Tony Stewart finished ninth in his No. 14 SHR Chevrolet. Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10 in his No. 1 CGR Chevrolet.
Carl Edwards finished 12th, Martin Truex Jr. finished 13th, Hamlin finished 30th, Dillon finished 32nd, Elliott finished 33rd, Logano finished 36th and Harvick was the lowest-finishing Chase driver in 38th.
The race lasted three hours, 42 minutes and 47 seconds at an average speed of 134.929 mph. There were 17 lead changes among nine different drivers and eight cautions for 51 laps.
Johnson leaves with a five-point lead over Kenseth in the points standings.c1630_unoffres