After German and Scots-Irish settlers found themselves in disagreement over where to settle their city, Concord, North Carolina was settled in 1796. One hundred and sixty four years later, what is now known as Lowe's Motor Speedway was built, and the city has since become the hub of NASCAR racing-- and the track itself has become Jimmie Johnson's personal playground.
Of his 16 career starts at the track, the points leader coming into Saturday night's NASCAR Banking 500 has five wins, eight top fives and 12 top tens, and has an average top ten finish (9.1).
With his qualifying lap of 192.376 mph, not only did the defending champion win his third pole of the season, he also set one of the fastest laps in the COT.
Johnson and teammate Mark Martin shared the front row, and led the field to the green flag under the lights-- and under a threat of showers-- at 7:49 p.m. Eastern time.
The front four cars immediately pulled away from the rest of the field, with Martin passing his teammate to take over the lead. Kasey Kahne never let the leaders out of his sight, running side by side with Johnson and taking second.
Trouble early for Sam Hornish, Jr. who spun off turn two to bring out the night's first caution. There was no lucky dog.
On the outside, Martin lost the lead upon the restart on lap seven to his teammate, who in a repeat of his dominating performance last week pulled away from the No. 5's side by side battle with Kahne.
Near the entrance of pit road on lap 10, the No. 77 of Hornish, Jr. once again found himself around. He would go a lap down making repairs to his Dodge.
On lap 14 Johnson was able to pull away from the mostly single file field. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ran side by side for sixth and seventh, with Logano taking the spot. Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya ran eighth, 10 spots up from his 18th starting position on lap 20.
Chaser and former champion Tony Stewart, though, was going the other way. By lap 23 his No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet was back to third.
While Johnson paced the field, Kahne began catching Friday night's Nationwide Series race winner Kyle Busch for third, and on lap 34 Denny Hamlin passed Ryan Newman for sixth.
Johnson's over two second lead was erased on lap 35 as caution came out for the third time during the NASCAR Banking 500 for light sprinkles. The field would come down pit road.
Picking up seven spots by taking just two tires, Matt Kenseth won the race off pit road, followed by Johnson, Busch, Martin, Newman and Hamlin. Also taking two tires were teammate Casey Mears and Harvick. Trouble for rookie Logano, who slid through his pit and fell all the way back to 38th . Keselowski also had problems on pit road, in the form of speeding. He was forced to start at the tail end of the field.
Choosing the outside, Kenseth was able to hold the lead on lap 43, but remained in a side by side battle with the No. 48. As they continued to race side by side, making slight contact as Johnson got loose, Kenseth was able to clear the points leader as Martin fell back to fourth.
Chasers Kahne and Brian Vickers ran side by side for blank, nearly colliding on lap 47 before the No. 9 Dodge, running the new R6 engine, was able to take the spot and pull away.
Stewart, meanwhile, continued to lose spots, running 17th on lap 52 as Johnson took the lead-- and pulled away-- from Kenseth. Stewart would drop two more spots by lap 56.
Former back, it was Megatron vs. Optimus Prime, and evil prevailed as Gordon took the ninth spot from the No. 39 of Newman.
After running through his pit box earlier, Logano had made strides on track and ran in 25th after passing Elliott Sadler and his pink machine on lap 57.
Twentieth place Mike Bliss made contact with the wall on lap 62, but was able to continue. Hamlin, with four tires, overtook the No. 17 with just two for second. He was able to pass Johnson and take the lead on lap 71.
Chaser and expectant father Carl Edwards fell a lap down on lap 83 while his teammate Kenseth passed Johnson for second.
On lap 87 Kyle Busch passed Johnson for third, but the fastest car on the track was Juan Pablo Montoya, and passed both Busch and Johnson at a lightning fast pace, moving into third. As Busch made it three wide with Johnson and Mears to gain positions back, communication between Knaus and his driver seemed to break down.
“I'm going to come down pit road and strangle you if you're going to be like this,” Johnson snapped at his crew chief.
Kenseth hit pit road on lap 90, taking four tires and fuel, as did Edwards, saying “I don't know what (the car) is going to do.”
Johnson came down pit road on lap 92 as did teammate Martin. The team made major adjustments, including air pressure, and had trouble on the left rear costing those positions.
Newman, Kahne and several others made their way down pit road for four tires. Both Busch brothers, Stewart, Menard, Sadler and several others hit pit road on lap 94, with Montoya and Hamlin pitting the following lap.
Kenseth, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Mears and Johnson were the top five as green flag stops cycled around. Hamlin, though, took the lead as the field reached the 100 lap mark.
Kahne, Martin and Clint Bowyer made it three wide on lap 107, as the No. 9 and No. 33 split the second place car in points for positions seventh and eighth. In fifth, Montoya continued to run the fastest laps on track, helped by Johnson and Kyle Busch racing side by side for third and fourth.
With blank laps complete, Hamlin's nearly five second lead was erased as Kyle Busch's No. 18 M&M's Toyota snapped loose and spun in turn four, bringing out the fourth caution and barely missing Kahne and Scott Speed. Robby Gordon was the lucky dog.
Two tires for Gordon, Biffle, and Newman all took two tires and came off pit road in the top three positions, with former leader Hamlin in fourth. He was the first car with four tires as the field took the green on lap 125.
Gordon immediately jumped out to the lead as Earnhardt, Jr. fell off the pace. It had been a mess of a restart, with Montoya even receiving damage after running into the back of Bowyer.
“It won't stay in fourth (gear). It just grinds away,” Earnhardt, Jr. told his crew before heading to the garage.
Hamlin and Biffle began running side by side for second, with the No. 11 FedEx Express on the bottom and the No. 16 on top, with Biffle prevailing on lap 129. On lap 131, Montoya continued to drop positions left and right with his damage, running blank as fellow Chaser Vickers, who also had damage, came down pit road for repairs. Montoya ran 25th on lap 133 and continued to fall back.
“When we get this fixed it's going to be better than it was before,” crew chief Brian Pattie assured this driver.
Johnson completed his pass on Biffle for third as the pair hit the start finish to complete lap 136. Meanwhile just up ahead, Hamlin looked to be eating away at the lead of Gordon.
Contact between the No. 43 of Sorenson and No. 18 of Busch as the two battled for 21st and 22nd , Busch getting into the back of Sorenson to take position, but Sorenson was able to save the car. Continuing to struggle, 30th place Montoya fell a lap to leader Gordon on lap 149.
Twenty laps before he was due on pit road, Paul Menard and his No. 98 Menard's Chevrolet came down pit road for a four tire stop. Meanwhile, on lap 155 Earnhardt, Jr., 29 laps down and in 41st came back on track.
On lap 163, Montoya was just hanging on, waiting for a caution-- and he was it. On lap 164 Montoya, who was wicked loose in the laps leading up to the caution, spun through the infield and on pit road. Because he pit with the leaders and came in double file, Montoya was forced to start at the tail end of the field. They would make multiple pit stops.
Hamlin won the battle off pit road, followed by Gordon, Kenseth, Johnson, Biffle, Kahne, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Newman and Truex, Jr. rounded out the top ten. Montoya would restart 37th , two laps down.
Spinning the tires, Hamlin on the outside ran side by side with Gordon, with Johnson and Kenseth just behind. Three wide further back with Logano, Mears and Allmendinger, and a gaggle of cars behind them. Meanwhile, Gordon was able to take the lead on the bottom from Hamlin on lap 171. Stremme scraped the wall and fell off the pace but was able to continue, and Kenseth took second from Hamlin.
Closing up on the leader, Kenseth jumped to the high line in an effort to pass the No. 24. Further back in the top ten, Bowyer and Jeff Burton ran eighth and ninth before Burton was passed by Newman and the No. 14 of Stewart, who ran quietly in tenth.
Three wide was David Ragan, Mears and Marcos Ambrose, as Ambrose continued to fall back to 23rd with damage on the front of his car as the field reached 179 of 334 total laps. Sick with the flu, Reutimann, who had driver Dave Blaney on standby, ran 12th .
Kahne passed Johnson for fourth on lap 180, and caution came out for debris on lap 189 for debris. And Target marked the spot, as it was part of the rear end from the No. 42 of Montoya. David Gilliland in a fourth Joe Gibbs Racing entry was the lucky dog, and the leaders came down pit road, mostly for two tires. It was the sixth caution of the night.
Kenseth led the way off pit road, followed by Johnson, Gordon, Kurt Busch Hamlin, Kahne, Bowyer, Stewart, Newman and Truex, Jr. Martin stayed on pit road to fix the nose of his car, after earlier contact with Montoya. Another Chaser had woes, as Hamlin came down under the caution with a valve problem, but went back on track.
“I'm wide open. I don't think we're going to make it,” Hamlin told his crew, and his team ordered him behind the wall to repair the car.
On the inside, Kenseth led the field to the green flag on lap 195, getting a push from Johnson's teammate Gordon, but was able to pull away, leaving Gordon and Johnson to battle side by side for second. Bowyer, meanwhile, took to the top side to pass both Kahne and Kurt Busch, moving his No. 33 Chevrolet into third.
A lap later, though, Busch and Kahne split him, passing him and allowed Newman to pass him as well. Behind Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart battled for ninth and 10th , Smoke prevailing.
On lap 201, struggling Chaser Edwards came down pit road. Side by side, Kahne passed Gordon for third on lap 204, and was able to run anywhere on the track, while Stewart and Bowyer continued traded eighth and ninth place before Stewart was able to clear the RCR Chevrolet.
On lap 211, Hamlin was declared out of the race with his valve issue. He would take a major hit in points, losing two positions and falling from ninth to 11th with his 42nd place finish.
“It looked it dropped a valve or something. Just a tough night. We've had a rough couple of weeks,” Hamlin said. “This is the best we've run at this track. We had a chance of winning it.”
On lap 218, a blistering fast Kahne made his way past Johnson. The No. 48 had hoped by letting Kahne by he could get behind the No. 9 and suck off some debris on the grill, but Kahne simply drove away.
And it wouldn't take him long to take that lead from Kenseth.
Kahne was able to drive by the No. 17 DeWalt Ford on lap 222, and immediately set off to lap cars and build a substantial lead. On lap 230, Montoya came down pit road, after not pitting the last caution due to being a wave around car.
Kyle Busch scraped the wall on lap 232 but was able to continue on. Reutimann started green flag pit stops on lap 236, a tad earlier because of a vibration. Meanwhile Newman was able to take fifth from Kurt Busch, and Martin continued to struggle from that previous contact with Montoya and ran in 17th .
On lap 244 Kyle Busch replaced four tires during his pit stop, getting a wedge adjustment as well. Truex, Jr., who was running in the top ten, also made his stop. The following lap, Sorenson and Johnson made their way down pit road.
On lap 246 pit road swelled with takers, including Stewart, Gordon, Kahne, Logano and others. Harvick came down the following lap, along with Kurt Busch. Along with various adjustments, the leaders chose four tires.
Gordon began complaining to his crew of a vibration after his stop, asking his crew to make sure they hit all the lug nuts.
Once stops cycled back Kahne resumed the lead, followed by Kenseth, Johnson, Bowyer and Gordon with 252 laps completed. With 74 laps remaining, Kahne held a three second lead over second place Kenseth.
Johnson made a pass for second on lap 268, and began chasing down the leader, who extended his lead to over five seconds. Meanwhile, continuing to struggle with a vibration, Gordon had fallen back to seventh by lap 285, and Kahne extended his lead to nearly seven seconds. But could he hang on?
Mark Martin fell a lap down on lap 290, and Kahne had an intense side by side battle with Greg Biffle, trying to put him a lap down. A caution, however, for Max Papis blowing an engine came out just as Biffle edged ahead of the No. 9. David Gilliland had just passed Martin, and was the lucky dog as the leaders hit pit road.
Jeff Gordon was the only car to take two tires, and came out third behind Johnson and Kahne, who had an extremely close battle off pit road. Kenseth, Mears, Bowyer, Truex, Jr., Keselowski, Logano and Kurt Busch rounded out the top ten.
Johnson got off to a huge jump on the lap 296 restart, immediately pulling ahead of Kahne. Gordon and Kenseth raced side by side for third and fourth with the RCR teammates of Bowyer and Mears, and a very loose No. 25 of Keselowski behind them. Making it three wide, Logano dove to the inside of Truex and Keselowski, but it was the No. 25 who came out on top.
Brotherly love as Kurt and Kyle Busch battled alongside one another for tenth and eleventh on track, with younger brother Kyle coming out on top. Caution came out with 35 to go for the eighth time for Gilliland hitting the wall, evaporating the dominant lead of Johnson. His teammate, Martin, was the lucky dog.
A push from teammate Gordon once again saw Johnson jump out to a substantial lead, but it immediately went away when Carl Edwards, who had struggled all night long and was laps down, lost an engine. The ninth caution of the night came out with 30 laps remaining, and once again stress lined the face of No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus.
In light of his DNF, Edwards fell from eighth to 10 th in points, and called his engine failure a “mercy killing.”
Twenty-six laps remained as they took the green flag, with Johnson again jumping out ahead of the field. Gordon and Kenseth were both quick to clear Kahne, as they were single file until Logano and Keselowski, who battled side by side for seventh and eighth just in front of Logano's teammate Busch. The No. 25 was able to clear Logano with 24 laps to go.
Tony Stewart dove to the bottom of Stremme, Biffle and Newman, making it FOUR wide and taking the position! But Stremme got loose, clipping the wall and tagging Biffle, sending the No. 16 spinning into the infield. The amazing thing-- Biffle had very minimal rear damage on his Ford. The incident also sent Bliss into the grass to avoid contact, but he was okay.
It was the night's 10 th caution of the night, and saw the No. 43 of Sorenson get back on the lead lap.
With 17 to go Gordon was able to hang with the No. 48, racing him side by side, Gordon on the outside, and Johson to the bottom. Off the corner, the No. 24 had the advantage but it was Johnson who held the lead. With 16 to go Johnson got loose, handing the lead to Gordon.
But Johnson was persistent, running up to the side of Gordon. Getting loose again, Gordon was able to clear the No. 48. Behind them, Kahne and Kenseth raced side by side for third and fourth, trading the position with cross over moves.
Johnson continued to try and make a run on his teammate with 14 to go, making a run to the bottom, and door to door it was Johnson who led with 13 to go. But Gordon pulled out to half a car length, and Kahne looked to make a run with 12 to go, Johnson took the lead and Gordon fell into the clutches of Kahne, with Kenseth in toe.
Kahne ran in second, and with 11 to go and Kenseth on his bumper he began trying to run down the leader. It was heavy racing all around Lowe's Motor Speedway as 10 laps remained.
Johnson extended his lead to a second with nine laps remaining, as Logano and Bowyer battled further in the pack for fifth and sixth. Six laps remained, and Kenseth jumped to the inside of Kahne. The two ran door to door, side by side, but getting loose Kenseth relinquished the spot to the No. 9.
But he wouldn't give up, and passed Kahne with five laps remaining in the NASCAR Banking 500. With three to go, Gordon and Logano were inseparable, not letting one another by as they battled for fourth.
Despite Kahne's strong run, it was Jimmie Johnson who went to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Banking 500.
Your top ten : Johnson, Kenseth, Kahne, Gordon, Logano, Bowyer, Mears, Busch, Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch.
Your Chasers : Johnson 1 st , Kahne 3 rd , Gordon 4 th , Ku. Busch 10 th , Stewart 13 th , Biffle 16 th , Martin 17 th , Vickers 34 th , Montoya 35 th , Edwards 39 th , and Hamlin 42 nd .
Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings heading into Martinsville
Mark Martin -90
Jeff Gordon -135 (up two spots)
Tony Stewart -155
Kurt Busch -77 (up one spot)
Juan Pablo Montoya -195 (down three spots)
Greg Biffle -268
Ryan Newman -288 (up two spots)
Kasey Kahne -331 (up two spots)
Carl Edwards -341 (down two spots)
Denny Hamlin -372 (down two spots
Brian Vickers -485
Thanks to NASCAR.com, Racing Reference, and Jeff Gluck of Scene Daily for the information and quotes used in this piece.
This article also appears on SoCalSportsHub.com .
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