Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jimmie Johnson: 3-Time All-Star

 Jimmie Johnson's week started with a win at Darlington for Hendrick Motorsport's 200th Victory in Sprint Cup competition.  Jimmie Johnson capped off his week with his third trip to Victory Lane in the Sprint All-Star Race. 

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his All-Star Victory (Courtesy Getty Images)
The night started with the Sprint Showdown, a last-chance race for those not already in the All-Star Race.  Pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger had to pit before the race even began with a flat tire.  That made Martin Truex Jr. the leader when the green flag fell, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't okay with his former protege leading the race, and he quickly took over the lead.  Junior led all the way until the competition caution fell on lap 20.  The teams were allowed to pit during the caution, and everyone came in except for leaders Earnhardt and Truex. 

On the restart, Earnhardt was able to hold off Martin Truex Jr., but Truex wasn't able to hold off Jamie McMurray for second.  With 12 laps to go, AJ Allmendinger came back from his flat tire, and was able to get around Truex for third.  With two to go, Allmendinger and McMurray got together a little bit in Turn 2, but going into Turn 3, Allmendinger was able to get the spot.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to win, and AJ Allmendinger finished second.  Earnhardt and Allmendinger were able to race their way into the Sprint All-Star Race, while Bobby Labonte was announced as the Sprint Fan Vote Winner. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Sprint Showdown (Courtesy Getty Images)
After some (not) very funny intro videos from NASCAR fans, the Sprint All-Star Race was ready to begin.  Kyle Busch led the field to the green, and jumped out to the early lead when Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin raced side-by-side for second.  On lap ten, Jimmie Johnson passed Ryan Newman for second place, and set his sights on Kyle Busch.  On lap 15, Jimmie Johnson was able to get around Kyle Busch for the lead.

Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard got together coming off of Turn 2, and Harvick tried to retaliate coming off of Turn 4.  Unfortunately for Harvick, his plan backfired and he slapped the wall hard.  He came in to the pits under the first competition caution, along with most of the field.  Denny Hamlin was the leader when the race restarted, after he stayed out under the caution.  On the restart, Jimmie Johnson used a plan that is used at Talladega; he dropped to the back of the field.  By winning the first segment, Johnson would come into the pits first before the final segment, regardless of where he finished at the end of segment 4.

Mark Martin and Regan Smith (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 26, Carl Edwards blew an engine and caught fire, causing the second caution of the night to come out.  On the restart, Denny Hamlin was under pressure from Marcos Ambrose for a lap, but he eventually faded back to fourth.  The pressure from Ambrose was replaced with pressure from Matt Kenseth.  On lap 37, Kenseth was able to get around Hamlin to take the lead.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to get to Hamlin's bumper, and he was able to pass him before the field got back to the line for the competition caution.  Before the caution came out, Trevor Bayne got very loose, and made a fantastic save in Turn 3.  Matt Kenseth was able to win the second segment, ensuring that he would have good position going into the final segment.

Brad Keselowski stayed out under the caution, and he restarted first for the third segment.  Throughout the entire segment, Kasey Kahne was applying pressure to Keselowski, and Brad was able to hold him off for the entire segment.  Kahne had a huge run coming to the complete lap 60, but Keselowski was able to hold him off in a photo finish.

Kurt Busch didn't pit under the caution, and he led the field to the green flag to begin segment 4.  He only led until lap 64, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead away from Busch.  AJ Allmendinger was able to move into second.  On lap 68, Greg Biffle's Roush-Yates Engine expired, just like his teammate Carl Edwards.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the green flag on lap 75, and jumped out into the lead.  Marcos Ambrose got a big run on the restart, and shot past Allmendinger and Kahne to take second place.  Earnhardt Jr. won the fourth segment, after winning the Sprint Showdown.

Greg Biffle's car catches fire after his engine expired. (Courtesy Getty Images)
The field was reset under caution, with Jimmie Johnson in first, Matt Kenseth second, Brad Keselowski third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth.  When they came in for their mandatory pit stop, the leaders stayed in the same order, and Johnson led the field when the race restarted for the final ten lap segment.  Johnson and Keselowski jumped out front, after Kenseth spun the tires on the restart.  Keselowski was able to hang with Johnson for a few laps, but Johnson was able to pull away from Keselowski to win his third Sprint All-Star Race.  Brad Keselowski finished second, Matt Kenseth third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.  Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman finished positions 6-10.  Some other notables: Jeff Gordon was 13th, Tony Stewart 17th, fan-vote winner Bobby Labonte was 19th, Denny Hamlin 20th, and Mark Martin 21st.  Teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively, after engine failures.

Jimmie Johnson won for the second week in a row, and next week he should be strong again.  The Sprint Cup Series returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the longest race in NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600.  The race will be shown on FOX at 5:30 p.m. next Sunday.

Photo courtesy Getty Images

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