Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jimmie Johnson Returns to Victory Lane at Charlotte

Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Jimmie Johnson picked up his first victory of the season by dominating the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night.

Johnson was strong throughout NASCAR’s longest event, leading 165 of 400 laps from the pole. 
Johnson leads the field to the green flag (Photo courtesy NASCAR via Getty Images)
Many were unsure of Johnson’s team early in the season during a 13-race winless streak for the 6-time Champion.  Johnson said he never had any doubts of getting back to victory lane.

“It’s great to win,” Johnson said in victory lane.  “All the concern and all the worry, that was elsewhere - it wasn’t in my head.  We’ve had some bad races, but tonight we had a great race.”

Johnson said he had to work on his car throughout the night, but that his team finally made the right changes to get him the victory.

“It was such a long race,” Johnson said.  “The track went in a different direction from a handling perspective, but once we got on top of it we were good.”

Johnson led the race to the green flag.  After running side-by-side with Brad Keselowski for the first lap, he was able to clear the No. 2 and take the lead.

Johnson dominated early on, leading throughout the first cycle of green-flag pit stops.  He didn’t give up the lead until lap 77, when Kevin Harvick took the lead for the first time.

Harvick led through the next round of green-flag pit stops on lap 93.  He cycled back around as the leader, and he led until the first caution of the night came out for debris on lap 108.

Harvick led the field back to the green flag on lap 115, and he led all the way until the second caution, once again for debris, on lap 149.

Johnson won the race off pit road, and he led the field back to the green flag.  On lap 164, David Gilliland hit the outside wall to bring out another caution.

Johnson led the field down pit road, but Keselowski stayed out to take the lead.

Keselowski led the field back to the green flag on lap 170.  He led until lap 194, when Harvick chased him back down to take the lead.  Harvick would lead throughout the next round of green-flag pit stops, and he led until the caution came out for debris on lap 223.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead under the caution by staying out, and he led the field back to the green flag on lap 228.

On lap 235, Marcos Ambrose and Josh Wise got together to bring out the caution.  The wreck also collected Landon Cassill, Danica Patrick and Brian Scott.

Jamie McMurray won the race off pit road, and he led the field back to the green flag.  After racing side-by-side with Matt Kenseth, McMurray was able to take the lead.

After McMurray made a pit stop on lap 272, Kenseth was able to inherit the lead.

On lap 274, Kurt Busch’s engine blew up.  Busch had been attempting to pull “the double” by completing the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in one day.

The race restarted on lap 283, and Johnson led after winning the race off pit road.  He led until Busch’s teammate Danica Patrick blew her engine.

Johnson led the field back to the green flag on lap 294, but Kenseth was able to work his way around Johnson by passing him on the high side.

On lap 312, Johnson was able to work his way back around Kenseth for the lead.  He led until he had to pit on lap 331.  When Keselowski pitted on lap 345, Johnson inherited the lead.

Johnson had to pit on lap 374, and Carl Edwards inherited the lead.  Edwards needed the race to stay green to pick up the victory, but the caution came out for the final time on lap 380.

Gordon stayed out under the caution, but Kenseth was able to get around him on the final restart to take the lead.

Johnson chased down Kenseth and took the lead for the final time just eight laps from the finish.  He pulled away from Kenseth to win the race.

Here are the unofficial results:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Carl Edwards
5. Jamie McMurray
6. Brian Vickers
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Paul Menard
9. Kyle Busch
10. Brad Keselowski
11. Aric Almirola
12. Joey Logano
13. Tony Stewart
14. Kasey Kahne
15. Ryan Newman
16. Austin Dillon
17. Clint Bowyer
18. Kyle Larson
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
20. Trevor Bayne
21. Greg Biffle
22. Denny Hamlin
23. AJ Allmendinger
24. Casey Mears
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
27. Cole Whitt
28. Michael Annett
29. Marcos Ambrose
30. Michael McDowell
31. David Ragan
32. Brian Scott
33. Alex Bowman
34. Joe Nemechek
35. Landon Cassill
37. Justin Allgaier
38. Ryan Truex
39. Danica Patrick
40. Kurt Busch
41. Josh Wise
42. Reed Sorenson
43. David Gilliland

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway.  The FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks can be seen Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST, only on FOX.

Johnson celebrates in victory lane (Photo courtesy Miss Sprint Cup Facebook page)

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