It looked like the Jimmie Johnson of old who drove to six Sprint Cup championships on Sunday afternoon, powering his Lowe’s No. 48 Chevrolet to near perfection and winning the rain-delayed Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
During the race, Johnson had to hurtle over many obstacles, but the biggest one was not inflicting any self-penalties for pit road speeding or other pit miscues that have afflicted his team recently. Numerous other Chase competitors, on their way to having a career changing day, only found mishap, seeing their hopes disappear and sometimes ending up relegated to the garage or numerous laps down in their Chase hunt. Five of the elite twelve finished 30th or worse!
The major plus with the win for Johnson is that it clicks his ticket into the Round of 8; he no longer has to worry about what happens at the next two races in Kansas and Talladega. He led for 155 laps at CMS, snapping a Hendrick Motorsports 23-race winless streak – the longest of his career. He passed Matt Kenseth on lap 317 on a restart, stretching his lead to 1.474 seconds at the checkered flag over him. It was his 78th win, third of 2016 and eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“That is massive,” said a smiling Jimmie Johnson. “I don’t know what our plan would be at Kansas, but it certainly opens up the book, whatever opportunities may present themselves. It lets me go to Talladega and not worry about anything, which is fantastic. I can just get into the race and mix it up, so good things are ahead for us.”
In the new eliminator format, this is Johnson’s first trip to the Chase of 8, leading his thoughts to the possibility of his seventh Sprint Cup championship. This would tie him with ‘The King’ Richard Petty and the ‘Intimidator’ Dale Earnhardt.
“We have to take it one day at a time and one race at a time, and I still feel like we can bring better cars to the racetrack,” said Johnson, winner of Atlanta and Fontana from earlier in the season. “Right now, we’ve hit on some things, we still have more ideas, and we feel like more opportunity is ahead of us. We can’t sit back and celebrate too much on this. We’ve got to buckle down and get to work tomorrow and keep advancing our race cars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom.”
Kasey Kahne finished third on Sunday, followed by Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson.
The list of Chase drivers having a disastrous day started with Joey Logano, who hit the wall twice after tire troubles, finishing 36th. Kevin Harvick had computer problems, bringing ignition trouble along with them and giving him a 38th place result. Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were both involved in a multi-car accident on a lap 258 restart when a push by last week’s winner, Martin Truex, Jr., caused a tire-spinning Dillon to loop around, stacking up the field. Elliott was punted into the wall, ending his day; the duo ended up 32nd and 33rd, respectively. Denny Hamlin, running up front for most of the day, finished 30th after blowing his engine with 26 laps to go while running second to Johnson.
Here are the unofficial NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase of 8 point standings after the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Bank of America 500: 1 Jimmie Johnson (Win)’ 2 Matt Kenseth +31’ 3 Kyle Busch +27; 4 Brad Keselowski +25; 5 Kurt Busch +24; 6 Carl Edwards +20; 7 Martin Truex, Jr. +19; 8 Denny Hamlin +3 and those below the cutline for now are 9 Austin Dillon -3; 10 Chase Elliott -3; 11 Joey Logano -6 and 12 Kevin Harvick -8.
The Charlotte race is first of three events setting up the Round of 4 with Kansas next weekend for the running of the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday, Oct. 16 on NBC.