Johnson survives to win at Charlotte

The full moon was the only explanation for the strange happenings during the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Unfortunately the race was short on quality but high on quantity -- blown-tire quantity that is. After a marathon event ...

The full moon was the only explanation for the strange happenings during the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Unfortunately the race was short on quality but high on quantity -- blown-tire quantity that is.

After a marathon event mottled with 15 cautions, 17 flat tires, a red flag and a green/white/checkered finish, Jimmie Johnson emerged as the survivor, gaining his fourth win of the year.

"We changed batteries, alternator had troubles, a flat tire," said Johnson. "I just can't thank these guys enough. We thought we were down and out a couple of times but we just didn't give up."

It was quite a night for Johnson.

He started in the rear of the field due to an engine change, had three dead batteries that had to be changed out during the event, and a flat tire. In the end he wound up on top after a long night of attrition to earn his fifth win in the last six races at LMS.

"It was a good day," Johnson said. "To win in the closing laps after a long day of adversity it is just awesome -- plus we started at the back. Man that is just awesome."

Kurt Busch was second. After a disastrous start to the Chase, the second place finish was the shot in the arm this team needed.

"I just was rolling through the night waiting to see what tire would blow out first," said Busch. "It was a tough night to know when to go hard...I thought it went well we just came up a bit short racing Jimmie Johnson."

Greg Biffle was third, "You know it was kind of a different night. It was the first kind of racing I have done like this. Kind of like restrictor plate racing where you just kind of hang out and wait. I was only running the car at 75-80%, man it was fast out there."

Joe Nemechek and Mark Martin complete the top five.

"I really hate it," said Martin of his race. "This car was capable of contending for the win, we just struggled all night long."

Elliott Sadler brought the grid to the green flag, but Ryan Newman beat the No. 38 Ford in the first turn to grab the top spot. The race, whose green-flag start was delayed to allow the USC/Notre Dame game to end on NBC (and coverage to switch over), did not stay green long as the first yellow flew on lap three when a tire fell of the No. 7 Chevy of Robby Gordon.

Newman continued out front on the restart on lap eight and led until lap 22 when Sadler managed to skate past the No. 12 Dodge. Newman apparently was slowing due to tire issues and was forced to make a green flag pit stop on lap 24.

Sadler conceded the lead on lap 30 to Tony Stewart just as a competition yellow for NASCAR to check tire wear emerged. Pit stops commenced seeing Sadler out on top for the restart on lap 35.

Stewart had just passed the No. 38 for the lead on lap 62 when the third caution waved when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cut a tire and smacked the wall in turn four; Matt Kenseth didn't wreck but he, too, suffered a right front flat tire on the same lap.

"I blew a right front tire," explained Earnhardt. "I didn't have no warning, just blew going down the front straightaway. Hit the wall real hard."

After pit stops Sadler led, as Stewart suffered some bad luck. He thought that pit road was closed and didn't come in for service until two laps after the leaders; the miscommunication dropped Stewart to 35th on the restart on lap 68.

Sadler allowed Biffle to lead on lap 92 to gain five bonus points just as Biffle relinquished the lead back to the No. 38, Bobby Hamilton, Jr. cut down a tire hitting the wall on lap 94, causing the fourth caution period.

The leaders pitted but Biffle, with a 14.8-second stop, beat Sadler off pit road for the lead but Biffle hesitated on the restart allowing Sadler to grab the lead in the first corner. Sadler was still out front when Sterling Marlin cut down a tire hitting the wall on lap 124.

"We blew a right front tire," said Marlin. "These track owners: I wish they'd contact somebody before they do anything to the racetrack. They had a good track here before and didn't need to mess with it."

That caution brought everyone in for service stops but a lightning quick 12.9 second stop for Team 38 once again sent them out first. Kyle Busch caught the back bumper of Sadler and passed him on lap 143.

Sadly for the young Busch his tenure on top did not last long. He experienced a right front flat tire on lap 150 sending him into the wall. After the impending pit stops Casey Mears led the field after a two-tire stop for position. Sadler began falling backward through the top ten as handling issues plagued the No. 38 Ford.

"No indication," Busch said of his flat. "The right front tire went down. There was nothing I could do. I'm only driving my car 85-90% out there. Not even pushing 100% just because I'm scared to death from seeing all the other people with problems out there."

Mears was passed by Stewart on lap 161. Stewart was still leading when the race was slowed on lap 172 when Kevin Harvick cut a tire and scrubbed the wall. Race leader Stewart brought the field to the flag at the restart on lap 180.

"Everybody saw it coming last night (Busch race)'s pretty disgusting and pretty embarrassing for our sport. I hope everybody's proud of the position they put all the drivers and the sponsors in tonight," said Harvick of the outbreak of tire problems. "They need to throw the checkered flag and get the hell out of here."

The rash of tire problems prompted NASCAR to send officials around to check the tire pressures being used up-and-down pit road. NASCAR further went out on a limb to equalize the tire issues by throwing a competition yellow on lap 201 and implementing a mandatory stop to regulate the minimum tire pressure suggested by Goodyear.

Stewart remained the leader upon the completion of that stop but brought out the caution on lap 216 when he cut a right rear tire and hit the wall. After service stops played out, Michael Waltrip wound up in the top spot after the top nine cars choose not to pit.

Stewart restarted as the last car on the lead lap in 31rst. But the damage on the No. 20 Chevy was too severe, forcing Stewart to return for repairs and dropping him seven laps down.

"It sucks when you are the fastest car all day and something like that happens," said an irate Stewart. "It was one of those crazy nights that will probably dictate how the Chase turns out."

The tenth caution flag waved on lap 243 when David Stremme lost a tire and hit the wall. Under that caution, Johnson lost a right rear tire after his pit stop forcing him to 29th as Newman found his way back to the front.

On the restart, Sadler a tire hit the wall causing the 11th caution and bringing out the red flag. After a fifteen minute cleanup the grid returned to green with Newman leading. Waltrip wheeled by the No. 12 Dodge on lap 267 but was slowed when Scott Riggs blew a right front tire a lap later. When pit road opened, Waltrip was the only top-five car to come in for service; he passed the lead to Kasey Kahne and restarted 10th.

On the restart on lap 278, Waltrip blew a tire and got into Jamie McMurray and Dale Jarrett for the evening's 13th yellow.

"I think I blew a left rear tire," said Waltrip. "I think that's what happened. I don't think what Jamie did could have caused all of that."

Kahne led on the restart on lap 287 and was out front on lap 306 when he blew a right front and was forced to pit handing over the lead to Kurt Busch. The field pitted and a two-tire stop by the No. 21 Ford team put Ricky Rudd out front with 22 to go. But Rudd suddenly began falling through the field as he got up to speed giving way for Nemechek to take over the lead.

Nemechek was being pursued by Johnson. The duo swapped the top spot several times before Johnson grabbed the lead for good with nine to go. Once clear of Nemechek, Johnson easily pulled out to a healthy lead but the field was re-bunched after a caution caused by Rusty Wallace with four laps to go.

In the end, Johnson lived to tell the tale of his 18th career win earned during a madcap free-for-all in Charlotte.

Johnson's win ties him with Tony Stewart in championship points. Greg Biffle (-11), Ryan Newman (-17), Mark Martin (-51), Carl Edwards (-54), Rusty Wallace (-92), Jeremy Mayfield (-115), Matt Kenseth (-124), and Kurt Busch (-142) complete the top ten.

There were 15 cautions for 84 laps and 35 lead changes among 17 drivers.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , David Stremme , Elliott Sadler , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin