By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson wasn’t worried—really.
Though fans and pundits of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing seemed inordinately concerned about Johnson’s “drought,” the six-time series champion said repeatedly that a victory would come.
Sunday night it did. Driving a No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that led a race-high 164 laps, Johnson beat Kevin Harvick to the finish line at Charlotte Motor Speedway by 1.272 seconds to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the fourth time.
The victory was Johnson’s seventh at CMS, breaking a tie with Bobby Allison for most victories at the 1.5-mile track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races. Johnson’s 67th career win, eighth most all-time, broke an 11-race winless streak to start the season, matching the longest such drought of his career.
“It’s great to win, but believe me—and I promise you—all the hype and all the concern and worry, that was elsewhere,” Johnson said. “That wasn’t in my head… We’ve had great races, and we’ve had opportunities there in front of us and had stuff taken away.
“And we’ve had bad races. I have to be honest about that, too.”
But Johnson also conceded that the mystique of the 48 might be back.
“Yeah, they know we’re awake,” he said. “In winning, it doesn’t matter who you are. The 4 car (Harvick) has had that momentum this year. They’ve been able to go out and execute and show a lot of speed and win.
“Hopefully, the 48 is heading that way, and we can get those other people thinking about us.”
Behind Johnson and Harvick, Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Carl Edwards and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray. Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon (who drove with an aching back), Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski completed the top 10.
Before he could nail down the win, though, Johnson had to pass Kenseth after a restart on lap 384 of 400. After taking the green flag, Kenseth opened a lead of more than one second before Johnson began to track him down.
Johnson dispatched Kenseth on Lap 392 and pulled away to a comfortable margin. Kenseth ceded second place to Harvick before he reached the checkered flag.
“You race as hard as you can for these wins,” said Kenseth, who, like Johnson, entered Sunday night’s race without a victory to his credit this season. “You hate it when you can’t hold on and win it. There’s no more I can do about it.
“We were in position. I did everything I could possibly do and got beat. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
From Harvick’s point of view, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team lost an opportunity to win in a car that was at least the equal of Johnson’s. Harvick brought the No. 4 Chevy to pit road on Lap 263 for an unscheduled stop to deal with loose wheels.
“Yeah, we had a fast car all night,” Harvick 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.
“We left two wheels loose and played catch-up the rest of the night. We’ve got to clean pit road up.”
Kurt Busch’s Indianapolis 500/Coke 600 double ended early when the engine of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet erupted on Lap 273 to cause the sixth caution of the evening.
Busch finished sixth in the Indy 500 earlier in the day but completed just 271 laps (406.5 miles) at Charlotte, leaving his car owner, Tony Stewart, as the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the same-day double.
“To feel the stock car right after driving the IndyCar is a day I’ll never forget,” said Busch, who finished 40th. “I can’t let the mood here, with the car, dampen what happened up in Indy today. That was very special.”
Notes: Jeff Gordon retained the series lead by 11 points over Kenseth… Danica Patrick started fourth but lost positions with handling issues. She was the victim of a wreck on Lap 235, but that wasn’t the worst of her troubles. On Lap 286, the engine in Patrick’s no. 10 Chevy expired, and she retired in 39th place.