|Jimmie Johnson wins the All-Star race for the third time (Getty)|
While the race was a five-segment, 90-lap event in total, it was the final 10-lap shootout that ultimately wound up being the most exciting and action-packed stanza. With no regular-season points at stake, 21 of the 23 drivers that started the race were still in contention as they battled for the big prize.
Johnson, who won a record five consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 2006-2010, started the 10-lap segment from the front of the field and coasted to victory in much the same fashion as he has done in his 56 regular season races on the circuit. It was Johnson's second consecutive win in as many weeks, as he won last Saturday night in the 11th race of the regular season at Darlington Raceway.
That win was also the 200th career win for team owner Rick Hendrick.
"It's been a great week," Hendrick said over the team radio after Johnson crossed the finish line.
In turn, Johnson said, "I don't want this week to end."
Hendrick then climbed on the edge of Johnson's car and took a victory lap while riding half-in and half-out of the driver's side window.
Brad Keselowski finished second, while the third through fifth finishers were Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
For the first time in the 28-year history of the All-Star event, Saturday's race contained five segments – four 20-lap stanzas and a 10-lap deciding conclusion. NASCAR and race sponsor Sprint elected to increase the race from four to five segments this year to increase significance of winning each of the first four segments, with each segment winner to line up from first to fourth place for the final 10-lap sprint.
Busch led the first 14 laps of the first segment before Johnson led the final six laps. Because a pit stop was optional after the first segment, seven drivers remained on-track, including Earnhardt Jr., who started the second segment sixth, a marked improvement from his 21st-place starting position in the 23-car field.
On Lap 25, last year's All-Star Race winner, Carl Edwards, lost his chance to make it two in a row when the engine on his Ford Fusion blew up, bringing out the first non-competition caution of the evening and knocking Edwards out of the race, with an ultimate last-place finish.
"Last year was so awesome to win this thing," Edwards said. "We were running real good the first segment, but I just knew something was wrong there."
Denny Hamlin led most of the second segment, but it was Kenseth that ultimately won the stanza, giving him the second spot for the final 10-lap segment.
In the third segment, emotions got higher and drivers became more aggressive as those that didn't do well in the first two stanzas began to throw caution to the wind and take more risky chances in pursuit of the elusive $1 million-plus prize for winning.
Keselowski assumed the lead at the start of the third segment, chased primarily by Kahne and Harvick, with speeds flirting with 185 mph around the 1.5-mile oval. And while Kahne challenged him late in the segment, Keselowski hung on to win by mere inches and earn the third starting spot in the final 10-lap section.
Meanwhile, in the two-segment Sprint Showdown, the undercard to Saturday night's main event, Earnhardt Jr. dominated from start to finish, leading all 40 laps to win and transfer into the Sprint All-Star Race.
"This is all about just going fast right out of the gate," Earnhardt said. "I think our car is pretty good, that's what we learned. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to have a lot of fun. We'd love to win a million dollars (first place in the All-Star race)
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Results
|While doing a burn out, Johnson decided to grab the flag as well; one of the most clever and skillful celebrations ever. (Getty)|