Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Jimmie Johnson Puts His Foot Down, Advances to Round of Eight with Charlotte Win

Who’s in the headline – After giving away two races in the first round of the Chase thanks to pit road miscues, Jimmie Johnson left nothing to chance at Charlotte on Sunday. After Hurricane Matthew pushed the racing action back to Sunday, he took advantage of the tough track conditions to pull out an old-school butt whoopin’ to secure his spot in the final eight. For the second time since the track was renamed back to Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson went to Victory Lane in a points race.

What happened – Kevin Harvick started on the pole and led the first 12 laps of the race before Chase Elliott made an on-track pass for the lead. Elliott led 101 laps before surrendering the top spot to Joey Logano. Logano held the top spot for three laps in the midst of a green-flag pit cycle, then blew a tire.

Johnson and Denny Hamlin swapped the lead under the ensuing caution before Hamlin led 51 green-flag laps. Johnson passed him for the lead on Lap 176 and outside of pit stop sequences and five laps under caution, Johnson led the remainder of the race. A huge wreck on a Lap 259 restart caught up five Chasers. Add in an engine/electrical failure for Harvick, Logano’s wrecks thanks to tire failures and a blown motor for Hamlin and the Chase is in chaos. Talladega is not the only wild card this round.

Why you should care – Hendrick Motorsports has found speed. They have shown it in all four races in the Chase. Johnson was arguably the best car in three of the first four Chase events. Barring a catastrophe like Dover last year, Johnson is going to go into Homestead with a shot at title number seven. Should that happen the racing purists are going to blow a gasket.

What your friends are talking about – Speaking of racing purists, you can always get them in a lather by bringing up the exploits of Kyle Busch. After another winless year for Busch at Charlotte, in the Cup series, there are still two tracks on the current schedule where he has failed to win in NASCAR’s top series. Charlotte is one of Busch’s favorite tracks but, just like Sunday, there always seems to be some incident that precludes him from winning a points race at the track. Pocono is the other track where the younger Busch brother has failed to take home a Cup trophy.

Hurricane Matthew impacted a huge swath of the East Coast this week. The devastation is far reaching and will take many people years to overcome. A small part of that devastation impacted the racing community. Not only did Daytona International Speedway receive damage to lights, speakers, signage, fences, gates, awnings and palm trees but New Smyrna Speedway had a section of their grandstand flipped over onto the racing surface. As a result, the Drive for Diversity Combine has been postponed. The date will be released at a later time.

Before Sunday, 196 drivers had made 100 starts in the Cup series. After Sunday, it was 197 thanks to Michael Annett. Annett has led seven laps in those 100 races. He’s never scored a top 10. Prior to 2016, since purse money is no longer disclosed, Annett won almost $6.8 million.

Martinsville Speedway conducted a tire test on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, they tried applying the same resin that Bristol Motor Speedway utilized on its lower groove for the night race. After the test it was decided that Martinsville will not utilize the resin for their upcoming race. While it made the second groove usable, it did not provide a different level of grip which meant the track felt the investment would not provide a worthwhile return.

Travis Carter received the prestigious Smokey Yunick award during track activities on Sunday. The award recognized individuals who have made a major impact in motorsports through their lifelong efforts. It is ironic that an award is named for Yunick that honors lifelong achievement in motorsports and yet his name is not even nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Who is mad – Easily the angriest individual after Charlotte has to be Kevin Harvick. Starting on the pole and feeling like he should have had a serious shot to win and advance, his car fired off poorly and while leading the first 12 laps, was not what he felt was a race winning car. Shortly before the crossed flags Harvick’s car shut off. After attempting to diagnose the problem on pit road, the team pushed it behind the wall and realized they had a computer issue that would not let the car run for extended periods of time. As a result, Harvick once again finds himself in a scenario where he faces an uphill battle to advance to the next round.

Austin Dillon made a calculated gamble to take two tires late in the race for track position. Starting on the inside, Dillon got a vigorous shove from Martin Truex, Jr. that turned his car, wrecked him into the inside wall and ruined his day, if not his Chase. The incident triggered a melee that involved 12 cars and damaged the Chase hopes of several drivers. A move that could have payed big dividends ultimately came up snake eyes.

Chase Elliott was looking like he would have a shot to race Jimmie Johnson for the win and at least give Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish. Instead he was wrecked in the same dust-up that claimed Dillon and damaged other Chase cars. Now Elliott faces the same up hill challenge as Harvick and Dillon if he wants to make it to the round of eight.

Who is happy – Kyle Busch very well should be mad that he had a car that was strong enough to drive through the field and even make passes with significant nose damage. He very well might have challenged Johnson for the win were it not for that damage. However, Busch managed a sixth place finish when no less than five Chase drivers ended up in 30th or worse. The result is a significant cushion for Busch heading into the next two races in this round. He was snake bitten at Talladega a couple of years ago so he most certainly isn’t feeling cocky, but his day very well could have ended much worse.

Kyle Larson had a tire issue in the middle of the race that saw him end up down a lap and struggling to get back on the lead lap. After the issues that befell the competitors on the Lap 259 restart, he not only got back on the lead lap he ended up with a top-5 finish. Larson may be out of the Chase but he’s intent on winning another race and efforts like Sunday have him brimming with confidence that he can.

Michael McDowell came home in 14th on Sunday. Another strong run for the little team that could. A 12th-place finish at Richmond and now a 14th at Charlotte has to feel awfully good for such a small organization.

When the checkered flag flew:

Jimmie Johnson won his 78th career race Sunday, in his 537th start.

This is Johnson’s eighth career win at the historic mile and a half race track outside of Charlotte, NC.

The triumph is Johnson’s third of 2016.

Johnson still ranks seventh on the all-time wins list, five behind his boyhood idol Cale Yarborough for sixth and six behind Darrell Waltrip for fifth.

Matt Kenseth quietly posted his fifth top 2 finish of the season.

This was his sixth finish of first or second in his career at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth has finished as the runner-up 29 times in his career. That ties him with Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte for 26th on the all-time list.

Rounding out the podium at Charlotte was Kasey Kahne, who scored his best finish of the season with his third place run.

Kahne has finished in the top 3 nine times in his career at Charlotte Motor Speedway

This was Kahne’s 54th career top-3 finish which ranks him 42nd on the all-time list.

Chris Buescher finished 16th, which was the highest position for a rookie, earning him Rookie of the Race honors.

The 12 Chase drivers and their point position after Charlotte:

1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Matt Kenseth
3) Kyle Busch
4) Brad Keselowski
5) Kurt Busch
6) Carl Edwards
7) Martin Truex Jr.
8) Denny Hamlin
9) Austin Dillon
10) Chase Elliott
11) Joey Logano
12) Kevin Harvick

What is in the cooler – The only night race in the Chase turned into a day race thanks to Hurricane Matthew. While much of the race featured follow the leader runs, there was more passing than the night race would have afforded. Especially on longer runs when the tires gave up significantly. There were also four on-track passes for the lead which is a big step in the right direction. As a result we’ll give this one three ice cold Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Hornet’s Nests.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The second race of the round of 12 takes place at Kansas Speedway on Sunday October 12th. The coverage begins at 2:15 on NBC. The race can also be streamed on the NBCSports LiveExtra feed. You can hear the action on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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The race quality standard have gotten pretty low. A race with four on-track passes in 334 laps now qualifies as an average race. Charlotte now is Fontana circa 2006.


How much did Mikey win in his career before finally winning in suspect dei cars ! Did anyone catch the radio chatter from Austin Dillons pit crew in the xfinity race ?? He pitted alone at the end for ” supposedly ” missing one lug nut. It gained his brother Ty exactly one position one the track but still left him one short to continue in the chase.


Ty Dillon has exactly one win in his 3 years of full time racing in the xfinity series but feels he is ready to run Cup races full time. I figure he will get his chance at the expense of Richard letting Ryan Newman go. No big loss with Newman leaving, but doubt Ty will ever get a cup win unless it’s a fluke rain stoppage one. Austin Dillon won his xfinity championship without winning a race that year, that continues for him in his 3rd year in Cup, zero wins.


Did anyone see the picture of Austin Dillon in Montana outfitters. He was standing over a dead buffalo that he got by standing on a ridge north of Bozeman and shooting down into a herd of 3,000 on Ted Turners ranch. What a hunter he is, wow. Oh, and not to be outdone, brother Ty went hunting in New Zealand, hanging out of a helicopter shooting down into a running herd. They sure take after their grandfather.


The attrition factor with this elimination format just show exactly how ridiculous any sort of ‘playoff’ is. For me, it doesn’t ramp up excitement, it just makes whomever ‘wins’ the champeenship more like the holder of a lucky lottery ticket.


Johnson didn’t get shot in the foot this week. Any suckers still wondering what’s wrong with Hendrick? Absolutely nothing.

Did anybody else get a sense of impending disaster when Dillon was on the front row on old tires?

When I saw Allmendinger’s car on the backstretch, there looked like there was a plastic bottle on the track. I wondered if they would leave it there for a debris caution later.

Bill B

Yes Don, I had the same thought with Dillon on old tires. I thought “Well, this is going to work out well”. Just points out what is wrong with the chase and elimination format. One idiot, rolling the dice for their own selfish purposes (and they all do it), can jeopardize the rest of the field. Crapshoot indeed.

So glad Gordon retired. I find the whole chase annoying and hard to watch, but it’s much easier to ignore and not care when I don’t have a dog in the hunt. Also, this is the first year I’ve spent nothing on NASCAR in 20 years.


Johnson has 37 races to get 27 more wins to tie David Pearson. He is seven behind Bobby Allison.

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