Johnson having heyday

Jimmie Johnson, left, leads going into the final restart and stays in front throughout the final 10-lap segment.

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Jimmie Johnson, left, leads going into the final restart and stays in front throughout the final 10-lap segment.

CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson used a calculated strategy Saturday to win NASCAR's Sprint Cup All-Star race and its $1 million prize for the third time in his career.

The five-time series champion won the first 20-lap segment, then rode near the back of the field for the next 60 laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway. His plan was to stay out of trouble and go forward in the fifth and last segment.

The new format this year set it up so that the winners of the first four segments would be the first drivers down pit road for a mandatory stop before the 10-lap final segment. Johnson's win in the first segment meant he was guaranteed to be the first driver down pit road, and he had the first stall — the reward for his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team winning Thursday's pit crew competition.

The nonpoints race was to beat everyone else off pit road, and Johnson edged Matt Kenseth across the line.

Johnson then had a great restart and pulled away to become just the third driver — joining the late Dale Earnhardt and teammate Jeff Gordon — to win three All-Star races. Johnson's other wins were in 2003 and 2006.

The win comes a week after his Darlington Raceway victory gave Hendrick Motorsports its 200th Cup win. This time Johnson celebrated by picking up team owner Rick Hendrick, who climbed halfway through the window of the Chevrolet for Johnson's celebratory lap.

"He said 'Come pick me up,' and once I got to him, he didn't want the ride," Johnson said. "I'm like, 'No, no, I came to get you, Get on the car.' It was great to take him around."

Hendrick, 62, waved to fans as Johnson slowly drove back onto the track with his boss in tow.

Brad Keselowski, winner of the third segment, had no chance to catch Johnson over the closing 10 laps.

"It's all about the restart," Keselowski said. "The high line on the restart just wouldn't go. I don't know if I would have been able to do anything, but I would have liked another shot. We got beat by a five-time champ and two-time All-Star winner, so I think we're doing pretty good."

Kenseth, winner of the second segment, finished third and was followed by Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the fourth segment and advanced into the main event by winning the qualifying race earlier.

Once again there was no repeat champion. Last year's winner, Carl Edwards, bowed out in the second segment after the engine in the No. 99 Ford blew up on Lap 25. He was looking to become the first repeat All-Star winner since Davey Allison in 1991-92.

Earnhardt raced his way in by winning the Sprint Showdown, leading all 40 laps. His exemption from his 2000 All-Star victory expired last year, and NASCAR's most popular driver needed fans to vote him into the All-Star race in 2011.

Pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger earned the second transfer position, and Bobby Labonte won the fan vote to get the third transfer spot.

Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 92.045 mph

Time of race: 1 hour, 28 minutes, 0 seconds

Margin of victory: 0.841 seconds

Caution flags: 6 for 10 laps

Lead changes: 7 among 7 drivers

Lap leaders: Ky.Busch 1-14; Johnson 15-20; Hamlin 21-36; Kenseth 37-40; Keselowski 41-60; Ku.Busch 61-62; Earnhardt Jr. 63-81; Johnson 82-90

Johnson having heyday 05/20/12 [Last modified: Sunday, May 20, 2012 1:03am]

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