24 races doesn’t seem like a long time to be winless for most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. But for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, it was the longest of his career.
Key word: was. That all changed on Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as fans and competitors alike saw a very familiar site, the No. 48 car doing burnouts.
Johnson won the Bank of America 500 and clinched his spot in the Round of 8 in doing so. The win is his his third of the season, 8th at CMS and 78th of his illustrious career.
“We’re a brotherhood on this team, and just so thankful for the friendship and the hard work,” Johnson, who led 155 of the 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, told NBCSN post-race. “Same thing for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We’re really going to enjoy this.”
Johnson passed Matt Kenseth, who finished second, on the final restart to find his way to a victory lane. Kasey Kahne finished third, Ryan Newman fourth and Kyle Larson fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray. A lot of non-Chasers crashing the party.
Some other notables included Danica Patrick in 11th, Carl Edwards in 12th and Martin Truex Jr., who stalled his car coming off pit road on the final pit stop, in 13th.
But for five other Chase drivers, it was a complete 360 from Johnson’s afternoon. Five of them finished in the bottom ten positions due to mechanical failures, accidents and bad luck.
Joey Logano, the driver who swept the Round of 12 back in 2015, had a tire failure on lap 117, bringing out the third caution of the afternoon. Later on lap 155, he cut another tire and slammed the wall. This time, the damage was too much for the No. 22 to continue. He lost 78 laps in the garage as the team repaired the car, and ultimately finished in 36th.
On the same lap that Logano had trouble for the first time, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick encountered some problems of his own. His No. 4 car, which started on the pole and led 12 laps, lost power. Harvick’s team was unable to diagnose the problem, as he finished in 38th place and currently sits dead last, 12th, in the Chase point standings.
On lap 259, Charlotte turned into Talladega – literally. “The Big One” occurred on the restart, collecting some notable Chasers Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott. The No. 3 was restarting second on two tires. Truex Jr. was behind Dillon, tapped him and sent him spinning out of control. The incident collected 10 other cars along with the two young drivers, with Dillon finishing 32nd and Elliott, who led 103 laps, finishing a disappointing 33rd.
The final Chaser who had problems was Denny Hamlin. He was running second and his finish looked promising. But that was until 26 laps remaining in the race, when his engine suddenly expired with no warning. The No. 11 came home in 30th place after leading 52 laps.
The craziest part of it all, none of those aforementioned drivers are really that behind. Harvick, who is last, is a mere eight points from the final transfer spot in the standings. Logano is six points back. Dillon and Elliott are only three points behind Hamlin, who sits in eighth place, 16 points behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Edwards, who sits in seventh place in the points with his No. 19 team. Basically, they can make it up in time.
You think the intensity, drama and unpredictability of the Chase is heating up in round two? Yeah, I think you’re right.
The Sprint Cup Series heads to America’s heartland, Kansas Speedway, for the second race of the Round of 12. Joey Logano is the defending winner of the race, and looks to repeat that feat as he will either need to point his way into the top eight, or win, which automatically advances you to the next round.
The Hollywood Casino 400 is scheduled to go green on Sunday Oct. 16 just after 2:30 p.m. ET. Assuming no tornadoes hit the area, mother nature should allow us to have an unaffected race weekend, for a nice change.