Johnson Rides High at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Fourth Coca-Cola 600 Victory
CONCORD, N.C. - Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Jimmie Johnson raced deeper into the Charlotte Motor Speedway record books by notching his series track-leading seventh victory in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver dialed up his fourth 600-mile victory at the track in his No. 48 after leading 10 times for a race-best 164 of 400 laps and bettering second-place Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 by 1.272 seconds.
Johnson grabbed the lead for final time with nine laps remaining by tightly drafting Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 into the entrance of Turn 3 before executing a precision low-line pass at the midpoint of the turn.
Kenseth seized the lead from Johnson's teammate Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 on Lap 384 following the eighth and final caution pit stop of the race. The caution period started with 21 laps to go when Alex Bowman's No. 23 car suffered a tire failure.
Gordon's team took two new tires during a green-flag pit stop with 25 laps remaining and he stayed on the track to preserve position. Gordon restarted in first alongside Kenseth with 18 laps remaining.
Harvick charged from the 10th position off the restart and had a late-laps rally fall short for the second straight points event. Kenseth crossed the finish line third, Roush Fenway Racing competitor Carl Edwards placed fourth in the No. 99 while Chip Ganassi Racing driver and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurry took fifth in the No. 1.
The victory is Johnson's first this season and marks the second time in his 13 full NSCS seasons he earned his first victory of a campaign in the 12th race. The first time was the 2003 season which he closed out with three victories.
"Six hundred miles around here is no easy task. To deal with all the things that are thrown at a race team through the evening , with the track changing, the mechanical obstacles that you have to overcome, keeping an engine alive, tires alive, all of it, it's a serious team effort to finish 600 miles.
"And then win here, especially as hard as we had to run throughout the night, the pace we had to keep up, certainly proud of that," Johnson said.
The 67-time NSCS winner, who was third on the final restart, was happy to decisively answer the looming question about when he would earn his first victory this season and solidify his chances to capture a series-record seventh championship.
"All the hype, all the concern and the worry - that was elsewhere. It wasn't in my head.
"We've had opportunity in front of us, we've had stuff taken away from us and we've had some bad races.
"The track went a little different direction than we thought it would from a handling setup. Once we got on top of that, we were real competitive. I think clean air at the start of the restarts was key.
"I was happy to get by the 24 and 20. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get by both them. I did and brought this baby home," he added.
Harvick, who led 100 race laps, placed second for the second straight week. He owns a combined four top-five and six top-10 finishes this season, including victories at Phoenix International Raceway and Darlington Raceway.
"We just had a loose wheel, got behind and it just took us the rest of the night to catch up.
"(Crew Chief) Rodney (Childers) and all these guys are doing a great job. We're just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road. We have to get that cleaned up. We can't win races with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road," he said.
Kenseth , who led the race four times for 33 laps, claimed his fourth top-five and ninth top-10 finish of the season. He booked a combined nine top-five and 16 top-10 NSCS Charlotte Motor Speedway finishes through 30 starts.
"I thought we had a top-five car. I thought it (the race) was definitely an improvement.
"Jason and the team did a great job. We had a great strategy and great stops. They had me in front and I was just too tight to hold them off. We just needed a little more. We couldn't quite run with the No. 48 and No. 4 and a couple of those other cars. We just have to get a little better," Kenseth said.
Gordon, who fought back spasms during the previous day's practice session, crossed the finish line seventh with his ninth top-10 finish of the season.
He will hold an 11-point championship advantage on Kenseth when teams arrive at Dover International Raceway for the June 1 series event.
NASCAR's three national series visit Kentucky Speedway June 26-28 for a three-race event weekend featuring the Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts, Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled over and Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225.
Tickets, ticket packages, Kroger Fan Zone passes that provide a stage-side view of Thomas Rhett's Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts race-day concert, and campsites can be reserved through the respective pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting the speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive, Sparta, Ky., 41086 just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
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