CONCORD, North Carolina — Jimmie Johnson claimed his third win of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, but his first since winning at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in March, with his victory in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.
“I didn’t wonder (when the next win would come),” Johnson said. “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. Thank you to Sprint, to the fans, to Gatorade, and to Valvoline. This is something very special to our team.”
The race was scheduled for Saturday night but was postponed to Sunday because of rain from Hurricane Matthew.
The win was Johnson’s eighth-career victory at Charlotte and guarantees his advancement to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
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Matt Kenseth finished second after starting the race in the back for an unapproved pre-race change to his car. He also served a pit-road penalty during the first caution of the race on lap 26.
“It was a great-second,” Kenseth said. “I think this is one of the toughest tracks there is on the circuit to pass at. It was better during the day than it is at night, and that’s a good thing because we had to go to the back twice, so we were able to make up some ground and finish okay.”
Three non-Chase competitors rounded out the top-five, with Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson finishing third through fifth, respectively. Larson made the 2016 Chase but was eliminated last weekend at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway.
After restarting in the lead following a lap 117 caution, Johnson dominated throughout the remainder of the 334-lap race. Denny Hamlin did get by him on the restart and led 52 laps, but Johnson got back by to take command on lap 176 led most of the remaining laps.
Kenseth got off pit road ahead of Johnson during the eighth and final caution of the race that came out for Hamlin’s blown engine with 26 laps remaining, but Johnson retook the lead after trailing for a lap and drove on to the win.
Hamlin was one of several Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors to have problems at Charlotte. After losing the lead to Johnson, he remained in the top-five and was running second to Johnson when his engine blew.
Other Chasers with problems included Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
Harvick fell off the pace and wound up going to the garage for a mechanical issue just before a caution on lap 156.
“It just suddenly shut off and the things that it points to are no oil pressure,” Harvick said. “It’s definitely not a power issue with the battery or anything like that. They are trying to diagnose it. I hate it for everybody on our Busch team; they made some great adjustments today and got our car back where we needed to be to run up front and everything was going fine. Lots of things can go wrong, and today, they did.”
The lap 156 yellow flag came as a result of Logano making hard contact with the wall. It was the second-consecutive caution for a Logano wreck into the wall, with the first coming on lap 117.
“Tires are popping,” Logano said. “We’re not the only car that had the issue, but we’re the ones that hit the wall when it happened, so that’s not the best place to have them go down. We had a fast car. Our car was capable of winning the race. We drove up from 10th and were up to third and running down the leaders, so I felt good about what we had. I don’t know. Things happen. It’s part of racing, I guess.”
Two more Chasers, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon, suffered substantial damage to their cars in a multi-car wreck on a lap 259 restart. The wreck looked to initially be a result of contact between Martin Truex Jr. and Dillon. Dillon was up front after taking only two tires, while everyone else took four on the previous pit stops.
“I think the No. 3, they stayed out on tires and tried to get some track position,” Elliott said. “The No. 78 (Truex) ended up getting him out of shape and then after that, I tried to check up. I don’t think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) saw it, got into us and got us turned the wrong way. It happens; we just got to go and try to have more runs like that next week.”
A couple of other cars in the Chase, those of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, also sustained damage.
The red flag was displayed for 10 minutes and 48 seconds for track cleanup.
Like Hamlin, both Harvick and Elliott led laps before their struggles. Harvick started on the pole and led the first 12 laps before giving way to Elliott on lap 13. Elliott dominated the first third of the race. He led 102 laps before giving up the top spot to pit during a green-flag cycle of stops on lap 114.
NOTES: The Bank of America is the first race of the three-race second round of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. Logano won last year’s Bank of America 500 en route to sweeping all three races of the round. … Harvick’s pole of Sunday’s race was his first pole of 2016 and the first of his career at Charlotte Motor Speedway. … Truex Jr. dominated the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading all but eight laps — 12 miles — of the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600 in May. In that race, he claimed his first of four wins this season. … Truex won two of the three races that made up the first round. Harvick won the other. … Hurricane Matthew forced the cancellation of all on-track activity at CMS on Friday and Saturday, including Friday’s Sprint Cup practice. The series did get in a practice session before qualifying on Thursday, though.