CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jimmie Johnson survived a race filled with attrition and won the first event in the Round of 12 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
Johnson beat Matt Kenseth from the inside lane on a restart with 18 laps to go and held on for his 78th career victory and an automatic berth in the Round of 8, which begins in three weeks at Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth was second with Kasey Kahne third, Ryan Newman fourth and Kyle Larson fifth.
Brad Keselowski led the Ford charge with a seventh-place finish, overcoming a pit road penalty on lap 66 for a crewman coming over the wall too soon. Even though that sent him back to 31st, he recovered through pit strategy that found him running as high as third on Lap 140.
Joey Logano had a Fusion that looked like it was going to contend for a victory as he ran inside the top-10 until blowing a tire on Lap 117. He made multiple stops on pit road to have his crew try and repair damage to the right side, but on the ensuing restart he fell from eighth to 19th. Matters got worse on Lap 156 when he hit the wall again, sending him to the garage for repairs.
Even though he returned to the race 80 laps down, the work done by his crew enabled Logano to gain one spot, going from 37th to a final finishing position of 36th. In a round where every point counts, that could prove beneficial when the checkered flag flies at Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks.
Logano wasn’t the only Chaser who had issues. Kevin Harvick had an electrical problem on the same lap Logano hit the wall for the second time and was forced to retire. He finished 38th. Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott were involved in a 12-car accident on a restart with 75 to go and finished 32nd and 33rd, respectively. Denny Hamlin was running third with 25 laps to go when his engine blew and finished 30th. Martin Truex Jr. came down pit road under caution in third place with 22 laps to go, but stalled the engine leaving his pit box and ended up finishing 13th.
While most of the attention was centered on the issues for those chasing the championship, some other Ford teams not in contention had solid days. Chris Buescher, who was eliminated from the Chase last week at Dover, finished 16th, which was one spot behind Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports. Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were 18th and 20th, respectively, for Roush Fenway Racing while Landon Cassill gave Front Row Motorsports two Fusions in the top 20 with a 19th-place run.
Keselowski sits fourth in the standings, 11 points behind Johnson, but due to all of the issues by his fellow Chasers, he finds himself 25 points ahead of ninth-place Austin Dillon. Logano finds himself 11th and trails eighth-place Denny Hamlin by only six points for the final transfer spot.
The series now heads to Kansas Speedway, where Logano is the two-time defending race winner.
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Ford Performance NSCS Notes and Quotes
Bank of America 500 – Charlotte Motor Speedway
SPRINT CUP RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st Jimmie Johnson
2nd Matt Kenseth
3rd Kasey Kahne
4th Ryan Newman
5th Kyle Larson
6th Kyle Busch
7th Brad Keselowski
8th Kurt Busch
9th Tony Stewart
10th Jamie McMurray
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
15th Aric Almirola
16th Chris Buescher
18th Trevor Bayne
19th Landon Cassill
20th Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
22nd Brian Scott
26th Jeffrey Earnhardt
31st Ryan Blaney
35th Greg Biffle
36th Joey Logano
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JOEY LOGANO -- No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion -- WHAT WAS THE MAJOR ISSUE FOR YOU TODAY? “I don’t know. Tires are popping. We’re not the only car that had the issue, but we’re the ones that hit the wall when it happen, so that’s not the best place to have them go down. We had a fast car. Our car was capable of winning the race. We drove up from 10th and were up to third and running down the leaders, so I felt really good about what we had. I don’t know. Things happen. It’s part of racing, I guess.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO KEEP IN MIND THIS ISN’T A ONE AND DONE ROUND. YOU HAVE TWO MORE RACES. “We’re not out by any means. We had a very fast car. I’m super-proud of the car we brought here. It was capable of winning, for sure. We ran up from 10th to third and was still running down the leaders early in the race, so I felt really good about the Pennzoil Ford we had. Things happen. It’s part of racing, but we’re not out. We’re not gonna die. This team is resilient. We’ve proved it before and we’ll just have to go out and prove it again. We just have to have two flawless races. It’s something we can make up.”
HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS ATTITUDE AND NOT GETTING FRUSTRATED? “We have plenty of attitude, that’s for sure. You can see right now behind me how they’re working their tails off trying to get this thing back out there to gain one or two more points. That may be the difference when it’s all said and done.”
DID YOU HAVE THE SAME ISSUE EACH TIME YOU HIT THE WALL? “No, one was the left-front and one was the right-front from what I hear. Once you hit the wall once, it kind of throws the front-end geometry out of line and that’s probably what screwed up the second one for all I know. Who knows? I know it hurts a lot when you hit the wall that hard, but I’m glad I’m alright.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING TO KANSAS? “We’re still fighting. We’ve got a really good race team and we can go to Kansas and win. These two race tracks -- Charlotte and Kansas -- are our best ones and we proved last year that we can do it and we’ll just have to do it again.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 EcoBoost Ford Fusion – “Everybody got checked up there and sideways. My spotter did a great job and kept me out of it. I kind of thought everything was clear and I let off the brake and the 27 was spinning when all of a sudden somebody bounced off the wall right out in front of me. I didn’t see where they came from or what they did. We weren’t going very fast, but just enough to do a bunch of cosmetic damage and knock the oil cooler and radiator out. I don’t think we’re going to get that fixed and get the duct work back in it. The nose separated from the splitter, so it’s unfeasible to fix it in that amount of time.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Wurth Ford Fusion – “It’s a solid day. To run seventh is OK. We just weren’t quite anywhere near as fast as the 48 and the 24, and we were behind a bunch of the others, so we just need to find a little bit of speed, but the execution was great. On the last pit stop my guys got the Wurth Ford out with the leaders, which was really good. We’re executing well. We just need to find a little bit more speed to be able to make that execution and speed and win races.”
HOW SURPRISING WAS IT TO SEE THE ATTRITION IN THIS RACE? “I didn’t see enough to comment, but that’s why you’ve got to watch. You never know what’s gonna happen.”
CHRIS BUESCHER – No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Fusion – “Overall, it was a tough day to move forward. There were a lot of wrecked race cars, which I was kind of surprised about. The track still had decent grip. It was nice and cool out, but it just led to a wild race. I guess everybody was figuring they’ve got a little cushion. They’ve got two more races before they really have to worry about the cutoff, so this was one of those days that we kind of expected three weeks ago.”
LANDON CASSILL – No. 38 Rev The Vote/Snapchat Ford Fusion -- “We had a pretty good car up until we got some damage on that big wreck and that kind of killed my speed. We were fortunate we could at least maintain position on fuel mileage. It all worked out. The fuel-saving got us back to where we were running before the damage on that restart. These races at Charlotte seem to be pretty unpredictable, which is why they’re so much fun.”