Why Jimmie Johnson’s 12th to first strategy didn’t work in the Sprint All-Star Race

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CONCORD, N.C. – A smile creased Jimmie Johnson’s face as he exited his No. 48 Chevrolet to a simple question about one of the more convoluted races in NASCAR history.

How did the six-time Sprint Cup champion fall from first to 12th in the final segment of the Sprint All-Star Race?

“Tires were a little more important than it appeared it would be,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

That would be the streamlined explanation for an endlessly confusing Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in which nothing was as it seemed – particularly after the first 50-lap segment ended with a caution flag before Matt Kenseth had made his mandatory pit stop for two tires.

It resulted in a one-lap penalty for Kenseth that precluded an anticipated wavearound and left eight cars one lap down – a scenario that hadn’t been foreseen by NASCAR, according to vice president of competition Scott Miller.

And it ruined the strategy of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who had game-planned for the race with the intent of finishing the second of three segments in 12th place.

A random draw would ensure either the top nine to 11 cars would have to pit for four tires. Being 12th after the second segment would ensure a team of at least being in the first two rows for the final 13-lap restart – or first in a best-case scenario, which is exactly what unfolded for the No. 48.

In a race featuring 20 cars, it potentially meant enjoying an eight-car buffer over the strongest contenders with 13 laps to freedom.

“We thought that was really going to be it,” Johnson said. “That was the plan. It just didn’t work.”

Virtually every crew chief in the field probably considered those tactics. Todd Gordon, who helmed Joey Logano’s first win in the exhibition race, said he did.

“(With) 20 cars on the lead lap, and you fall back to 11th or 12th, starting on the front row with 15‑lap old tires and having four rows of cars that separate you from (fresh) tires,” Gordon said, “I think you’re probably pretty safe.”

The history was sound. In the three previous three All-Star Races, the winner led every lap of the final 10-lap segment, lending credence to the concept that being out front in clean air was the key to victory lane.

But because there were only 13 cars on the lead lap (a six-car pileup in the second segment exacerbated the situation that started with the late caution in the first segment), Johnson and Kyle Busch were the only lead-lap drivers who weren’t allowed to pit before the final segment.

They restarted first and second … but with no buffer to the next 11 cars on four tires.

When the green flag fell, it took less than a half-lap for the front row to be gobbled up in a four-wide mad scramble that ended with Kyle Larson in the lead.

Starting on the outside, Johnson said it also hurt that he couldn’t pass Busch before the first turn.

“I didn’t quite have him cleared,” Johnson said. “I think he got a push up in there. Then it kind of broke our momentum.

“Then those guys came so fast and came around us. But I felt like the way everything has gone that if I could have got the lead and got a lap or two under my belt and maintained it, I could have kept it. And that was our strategy all along. When they came by us on new tires, they came by in a damn hurry.”

How many cars would he have needed between him and those on fresh tires to have a shot at his fifth All-Star Race win?

Johnson paused before answering.

“It would have been nice to have a lap or two,” he said. “So maybe third row? Fourth row? Something like that would have really been a big help.

“I think I would have had a better chance if I would have cleared Kyle and got down in front of him. We kind of fought for space into Turn 1, and neither of us ran the corner flat. By the time we got to Turn 2, they were on both sides of me just blowing by.”

Some of Johnson’s four previous wins in the All-Star Race had involved sandbagging. After winning in 2003, he admitted to laying back in an event that involved a midrace inversion, and he won the race in ’12 by winning the first segment and then virtually sitting out the next two.

But that still didn’t make it seem any less weird when he allowed Greg Biffle to zoom by into 11th place three laps from the end of the second segment

Was it odd to yield a spot so easily?

“Yeah,” Johnson said. “Many spots. It’s definitely, definitely different.”

But different was the kind of game being played Saturday from every angle.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points

Portland Xfinity results
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Truck race results at WWT Raceway: Grant Enfinger wins


Grant Enfinger took the lead when the leaders wrecked in the final laps and held off the field in overtime to win Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

It is Enfinger’s second win in the last five races. He also collected a $50,000 bonus for winning the Triple Truck Challenge.

MORE: Truck race results

MORE: Driver points after WWT Raceway

Christian Eckes finished second and was followed by Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar and Chase Purdy.

Ty Majeski and Zane Smith wrecked while racing for the lead with six laps to go. Majeski, running on the inside of Smith, slid up the track and clipped Smith’s truck. Both hit the wall. That put Enfinger in the lead.

Smith finished 20th. Majeski placed 30th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Stewart Friesen

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Grant Enfinger’s victory is his fourth top 10 in the last five races. … Carson Hocevar’s fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five result. … Stewart Friesen’s third-place finish moved him into a playoff spot with four races left in the regular season. … Matt DiBenedetto‘s sixth-place finish is his third consecutive top 10. … Jesse Love finished ninth in his series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ty Majeski had a chance to take the points lead with series leader Corey Heim out because of illness, but Majeski’s 30th-place finish after running at the front most of the day, leaves him behind Heim. … Hailie Deegan finished 32nd after contact sent her truck into the wall hard. … After finishing a career-high third last week at Charlotte, Dean Thompson placed 34th Saturday due to an engine issue.

NEXT: The series races June 23 at Nashville Superspeedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1)

Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.