From lap one to lap 400, Sunday Night at Charlotte belonged solely to Jimmie Johnson. Johnson and his No. 48 team dominated as they perfectly executed a game plan en route to their first victory of the year.
The victory was Johnson’s 67th career series win which places him eighth on the all-time wins list. It was his seventh points win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, breaking a tie with Bobby Allison for most wins at the track and his fourth Coca-Cola 600 victory. Only Darrell Waltrip has won more 600s, with a total of five wins.
Rarely does this team go too far into the season without scoring a victory. However, the team wasn’t fazed by the somewhat slow start. This was demonstrated in the race as Johnson once again proved why he’s a six-time champion.
After the race, Johnson was asked about the significance of the win.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Through the years a lot of references (have been made) to this race as one of our majors. I certainly agree with that. 600 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.”
Throughout the race, it was typically one of three drivers leading the field. Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth all had fast cars and found themselves leading for large portions of the event.
Harvick was first to take the top spot away from Johnson on lap 76. He maintained the lead until the ensuing restart after the second caution when Johnson soared back by.
Brad Keselowski was another driver who stuck his nose out front at different points in the race as he and Paul Wolfe worked out a different pit strategy. The strategy was successful in getting the No. 2 car out front; however it did not work out in their favor at the end as they placed tenth at the end of the night.
Unlike last year’s Coca-Cola 600, only one multi-car incident occurred throughout the race. On Lap 235, Marcos Ambrose spun off turn four. As drivers attempted to slow and avoid the accident, Josh Wise came in hot and hit the back of Landon Cassill which started a chain reaction. Brian Scott and Danica Patrick were also involved.
Kenseth made his way to the top spot on Lap 271. He was able to hold the position for a majority of the race’s second half.
Kurt Busch’s attempt at the Indianapolis-Charlotte double was going fine until Lap 273. Busch had placed sixth in the Indianapolis 500 earlier, but would finish 40th in Charlotte after blowing his engine 906 miles into his attempt at completing 1,100 throughout the day.
Despite the disappointing end, Busch was upbeat and satisfied about the day as a whole. “A day I’ll never forget,” was how Busch described his attempt at the double to FOX.
The eighth and final caution of the night came with 22 laps remaining. Jeff Gordon was the leader on the ensuing restart; however Kenseth would quickly regain the spot.
Johnson made the winning move with eight laps to go when he passed Kenseth. He then cruised to victory as he frequently did prior to the repave of the track in 2006.
Harvick came home second after being a threat early on and cited issues on pit road that thwarted their efforts.
“We had a fast car all night,” he said, “just kind of fumbled again on pit road, got behind, got a lap down. We needed a 700-mile race to get back to where we needed to be. All in all, they’re doing a great job of putting cars up on the track; we just have to clean up on pit road.”
Kenseth couldn’t get the job done and ended up third. He still has yet to score a victory in 2014. He was generally satisfied with the team’s efforts but said the car lacked the necessary speed.
“Overall for the weekend, I thought it was a step in the right direction,” he said. “I thought we were more competitive tonight. I didn’t think we were quick enough to win unless everything fell exactly our way. Even then I couldn’t quite hang on. Overall I thought it was a step in the right direction. I thought we had a top-five car all night. Great pit stops, great adjustments, just couldn’t hang on to it at the end.”
Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski complete the top 10.
Jeff Gordon, who finished seventh, retains the series points lead followed by Matt Kenseth who is 11 points behind in second place. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are tied at 24 points behind the leader for third and fourth in the standings and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell one spot to fifth place.
NASCAR’s two home weeks concluded with the waving of the checkered flag. Now, all three series head to Delaware for a battle with the Monster Mile at Dover next weekend.