CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – Winning yet another race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway guarantees Jimmie Johnson absolutely nothing. He learned that the last three years, when his domination at his “home” track failed to win him a Nextel Cup championship.

This time, he hopes, will be different.

After winning the Nextel All-Star Challenge on Saturday night – his seventh victory since 2003 – Johnson said this is the year he may finally break through and win a championship.

“I believe so in my heart. I really do,” he said, wearing a firesuit soaked in champagne. “I just feel like we have always been there, and as you all know, we always do so well until August and that is the big challenge for us this year is to make sure we can keep that momentum.

“We are looking at everything and trying to do everything we can to put together out best 10 races at the end.”

In years past, Johnson has dominated the early and middle part of the season to put himself in contention for the title.

Those runs have included a mastery of Lowe’s, the track that the primary sponsor of his No. 48 Chevrolet owns the naming rights to. He made his Cup debut here in 2001, and two years later had established himself as the driver to beat on the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

Johnson has won the last four points races, three-straight Coca-Cola 600s, and now has his second $1 million All-Star victory.

But that impressive resume has meant very little in the closing months of the season, when his burnt-out Hendrick Motorsports team limped to the finish. Johnson finished second in the season standings in 2003 and 2004, then fell back to fifth by wrecking in last year’s season finale.

Avoiding the same fate this year is now his goal, and crew chief Chad Knaus thinks he and the driver are finally poised to pull it off.

“Although we have been in championship battles … I don’t know that we were ready as a team, nor was Jimmie ready as a driver to pull it all off,” Knaus said. “Now I think our team has matured enough, and Jimmie has matured enough, to actually go out there and do it. “

They’ll take another step next Sunday, when Johnson will go for his fourth straight Coca-Cola 600 victory. His All-Star win makes him the overwhelming favorite to sweep the two events, which he also did in 2003.

The bad news for the rest of the field? Knaus thinks the Chevy he’s bringing to the track next week is even better than the one Johnson drove to victory Saturday night.

Regardless of what car they bring, Jeff Gordon knows his teammate will be very difficult to beat.

“He’s just very comfortable here, and I think that Chad really pays attention to detail and they’ve had good race teams and fortune,” Gordon said. “That’s just a deadly combination to try to beat, and that’s what we’re all chasing right now. “You just can’t ever count him out, no matter what happens to him throughout the race.”

Johnson proved that on Saturday night.

He was caught speeding on pit road during the first segment, and narrowly missed going a lap down while he served his penalty. It took him from first to 11th, and he held out hope that the field inversion at the start of the second segment would put him back near the front.

But only the top 10 cars were flipped, and Johnson found himself one spot too low to make the cut.

“The inversion didn’t work out,” he said. “I thought I was in the perfect position.”

His position actually helped him, because it took him out of harm’s way when leaders Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin wrecked, triggering a six-car accident. That was just one of the many wrecks – only 10 of the 20 cars were running at the end – that Johnson avoided.

He took the lead away from Kevin Harvick in the third and final segment, passing him after racing side-by-side for several laps. Johnson that took off, leaving Harvick and everyone else far behind.

“The No. 48 had everybody covered,” Harvick said. “Even before everybody wrecked we were the second-best car. I feel like the best two cars finished where they should have.”

The many accidents included one between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth that had both trading barbs after.

Kenseth said the accident was clearly Stewart’s fault, an accusation Stewart bristled at.

“That’s a pretty demented view in my opinion,” Stewart said. “I think he screwed up on this one. If he thinks I did that and that was my fault, he’s screwed up in the head.”

But Kenseth held his ground.

“Tony is always mad at somebody,” Kenseth said. “I’m not going to go out and do the name-calling like he does every week. He’s always mad at somebody.”