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Charlotte report: Johnson sweeps, Gordon shines.

By Andrew Charman

Jimmie Johnson drives a Chevrolet liveried with the same name as Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, and he loves the place. He won the UAW-GM Quality 500 on Saturday night to complete a 2004 Charlotte sweep, adding to his victory at the Coca-Cola 600 in May. On a night when all 10 Nextel Cup contenders hit trouble of some sort, Jeff Gordon kept his hopes alive with an amazing comeback from a lap one wreck to finish second.

Pole-sitter Ryan Newman's #12 ALLTEL Dodge led the 43 starters to the green flag as dusk fell over Charlotte but the racing was brief, a multi-car shunt erupting down the pack on lap one of 334. Fourth-starter Scott Riggs was the instigator, his #10 Valvoline Chevrolet slowing in the pack, everyone checking up behind and several cars running into each other. “This was my fault,” Riggs said. “I missed a shift on the initial start and not only ruined the engine but ruined the whole night and ruined a great shot at a great car and having a great finish.”

“When the dust settled it looked like the Chase for the Nextel Cup could be shaken up tonight, the #97 Irwin/Sharpie Ford of points leader Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon's #24 Dupont Chevrolet both involved. But damage to both cars was mainly cosmetic, unlike Greg Biffle whose #16 National Guard Ford took a heavy hit on the wall. Both Busch and Gordon would spend the early laps of the race running down the field as their teams fixed the cars' fenders. “We got pretty fortunate down there,” said Robbie Loomis, Gordon's crew chief. “Our biggest concern is temperature. It looks like we got the nose and back end fixed up well. We just need some track position.”

The green flew on lap eight only to turn yellow again as backmarker Jeff Fuller found the wall, and when they eventually got going on lap 13 top of that track position in the early laps was Newman. But what was fast becoming a night of carnage erupted again when Robby Gordon and Brian Vickers clashed, Vickers' #25 GMAC Chevrolet hitting the wall so hard that NASCAR was forced to red flag the race to repair the barrier.

After 20 minutes delay the race got underway again with pit stops under caution, and Elliott Sadler's #38 Combos Ford emerged quickest to take the lead when the green flew on lap 31. Fastest on the track though was Kasey Kahne, this year's dominant rookie moving the #9 Mopar UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge into the lead by lap 42 and then establishing a gap.

Lap 76 saw the yellow out again, and again it was Gordon involved. All night long he had been struggling with a loose car and he finally lost it in turn four, spinning down the bottom of the track where he was hit in the rear by Rusty Wallace's #2 Miller Lite Dodge. “I came off 4 and locked up the brakes trying to stay off the wall,” Gordon said. “Everything seemed to be okay, and right there at the end, boom! I thought 'Okay, that's it. Our night is over.'”

Kahne led the field to the pits and retained his lead as the green flew on lap 81, his rivals now headed by championship second place holder Dale Earnhardt Jr in the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet. When another caution flew on lap 124 following tyre trouble on the #99 Canteen Vending/Kraft Foods Ford of Carl Edwards, Earnhardt timed his restart best to take the lead from the Dodge, earning five vital championship points, but it was a short-lived pleasure and by lap 130 Kahne was back ahead.

Next to feel Charlotte's wrath were championship contenders Jeremy Mayfield and Matt Kenseth. Mayfield's #19 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge pitted for a routine stop on lap 171, only to get caught a lap down when just one tour later Kenseth's #17 DeWalt Ford found the wall. Once again Earnhardt beat Kahne away from the restart, but coming fast was the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, winner of the May Charlotte race. He led on lap 181, but Kahne clearly had the fastest car in the place and was back in front by lap 188.

Another yellow on lap 210, this time for debris, closed up the field again, and proved good news for Gordon, the highest lap-down runner earning the 'lucky dog' pass to regain the lead lap – suddenly he was 16th. Kahne retained his lead through the pit stops, and soon recovered it after being briefly taken by chase contender Mark Martin's #6 Viagra Ford. But Kasey has been the dominant factor in many a race this season only to lose out in the luck stakes, and so it would prove tonight. When Kevin Harvick's engine expired on lap 229 and Kenseth, Mayfield and Edwards all went off on the #29 Goodwrench Chevrolet's oil, Kahne stayed out during the resultant caution. This was despite his being concerned about a vibration that had appeared on his car, and his fears proved justified when with 63 laps to run the red Dodge blew a front tyre and slammed the wall. Another impressive showing ended with nothing – but Kahne will get his maiden win before long.



Related Pictures

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The Lowe`s squad were victorious again at Lowe`s Motor Speedway (Photo: GM Media).
Kurt Busch maintained his title lead with a fourth-place finish (Photo Autostock/Ford Motor Co)
Mark Martin`s title hopes took a dive with a late accident (Photo: Autostock/Ford Motor Co).
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Toyota, leads Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Toyota, drives through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the chequered flag ahead of Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota, to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the chequered flag ahead of Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota, to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for thirteenth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick will be joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Truex, Jr. will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday will be Gordon`s last race as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his fourteenth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Truex, Jr. is joined with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS, advances to the Championship 4 with his sixth place finish Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway (renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for the day to honor the four-time champion) in Avondale, Arizona. Gordon is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS  and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS advances to the Champion 4 with his second place finish. Harvick is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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