CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Despite the pressure brought on by the star-studded lights, thousands of screaming fans and a million-dollar prize on the line, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is, well, “keeping it cool” this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And why not?
Johnson leads the series in NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race wins with four (2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013), including capturing the last two in stirring fashion.
“It’s usually such a fun weekend for us,” Johnson said. “There are always a lot of family and friends in town for the race, and there is a lot of money on the line. It’s so relaxed and the atmosphere is just exciting. We just go out there to try and win it.”
Johnson became the second driver to win back-to-back Sprint All-Star races last season (Davey Allison was the first, in 1991-92) and could become the first to win three consecutive this weekend.
These all-star events apparently are made-to-order for Johnson — he has competed in 12, posting four wins and eight top-five finishes. His average finish is a stellar 6.1.
This weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race — featuring winners of series points races from the 2013 and 2014 seasons plus three wild-card berths from Friday’s Sprint Showdown and the Sprint Fan Vote — could be the antidote for Johnson’s dry spell this season.
He has yet to win, after 11 races.
Historically, an all-star victory often has led to much more. Ten times, the all-star winner has gone on to win the series championship, including two times by Johnson (2006, 2013).
Regarding those wild-card berths, they will be determined Friday night. Two will go to the top-two finishers in the Sprint Showdown, a 40-lap/60-mile race for drivers who haven’t won races in either 2013 or ‘14.
Also on Friday, the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote will be announced and awarded a spot in the all-star field. The Showdown starts at 7:15 p.m. ET. On Saturday night, all-star qualifying starts at 7:10 with the 90-lap/135-mile all-star race slated for an 8:30 start. FOX Sports 1 coverage starts at 7 p.m. on both nights.
Bayne pursues fifth win at Iowa for strong No. 6 Roush Fenway team
In the eight previous NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Iowa Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 team has won half of them. Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is credited with three of the wins, with 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne getting the fourth last season. Bayne is on a quest to catch NNS points leader Chase Elliott.
“I’m definitely excited to be heading back to Iowa, especially with our team’s past history there,” Bayne said. “The No. 6 Ford always seems to run pretty strong there, which makes me confident that we can continue to carry the torch this weekend and get back to Victory Lane.”
Bayne is fourth in the standings (-31), tied in points with Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon. Bayne has posted one top five and seven top 10s in nine starts this season. An added bonus for the young driver is his wife Ashton’s birthday is this weekend.
“There’s a little more pressure added, since we seem to run well on special occasions,” Bayne joked. Bayne won at Iowa last season — the same week the two got married.
In five starts at Iowa, Bayne has posted one win (2013), two top fives and three top 10s.
Crafton, Hornaday out to dethrone Busch at CMS
The saying goes, “if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best” and the best certainly will be on display when Kyle Busch straps into his No. 51 truck for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (today at 8 p.m. on FOX Sports 1). Of the 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races held at CMS, Busch has won five.
In the wake of Busch’s dominance, who can step up and challenge for the win this weekend?
Last season’s series champion and current points leader Matt Crafton may be the likeliest candidate. He finished second to Busch last week at Kansas and won the previous race, at Martinsville.
Crafton has an eight-point lead over Timothy Peters and Ron Hornaday Jr. in the standings. And if experience is an indication for future success, Crafton also holds the record for most truck starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is the only active driver in the field this weekend that has started every NCWTS race that has been held at CMS.
Crafton also earned his first series career win at Charlotte in 2008 and has three top-five finishes in 11 starts.
After finishing the season 14th in points last year, Ron Hornaday Jr. looks back in his old championship form. The four-time series champ sits third in the standings with three top 10s this season.
Hornaday has two series wins at Charlotte (2007, ‘09) and excels on 1.5-mile speedways. He has the second-most wins (11) on “1.5s” in the NCWTS behind Kyle Busch with 14.