Twelve races into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Jimmie Johnson finally claimed his first win of the year on Sunday night with a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“All the hype and all the worry (about not winning yet) — those voices were elsewhere,” Johnson said in victory lane.
The win may have been his first of the season, but it gave Johnson his seventh-career win at Charlotte, giving him sole honor of being the all-time winningest driver at the track.
Johnson also led a race high 164 laps. Kevin Harvick, who finished second, led 100 laps. Johnson and Harvick dominated the top spot through the first half of the race. After starting from the pole, Johnson ran up front until Harvick got by him for the lead on lap 76.
Harvick and Johnson continued to run first and second until Brad Keselowski stayed on track to assume the lead during a caution on lap 164. On lap 192, Harvick moved into the lead and Johnson moved into second nine laps later.
Pit strategies began to vary more, beginning with the fourth caution of the race on lap 223. As a result of the varying strategies, drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray led laps before Johnson was back up front following a cauton near lap 275.
Johnson continued running at or near the front for the remainder of the race and was joined by Matt Kenseth up front.
“The track went in a little different direction handling-wise than I thought it would, but when we got on top of that, we were really competitive,” Johnson said.
Harvick had an issue in the pits that mired him back in the field. But he restarted 10th with 17 laps remaining and quickly made his way back toward the front, moving into the top-three with 12 laps to go and getting by Kenseth for second with two-laps remaining.
“A loose wheel and we got behind, and it took us all night to get back up front,” Harvick said.
Kenseth finished third, Carl Edwards was fourth, and McMurray rounded out the top-five. Brian Vickers was sixth, and Jeff Gordon finished seventh after battling back spasms for most of the weekend.
“It (back) was better than Saturday morning and that’s what I’m thankful for,” Gordon said. “There was one time I got on my brakes in turn one, and it triggered something.”
Finishing eigth through 10th were Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Keselowski.
After finishing sixth in the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier in the day, Kurt Busch made the trip back to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, but the NASCAR leg of his race day was cut short by a blown engine on lap 230.
– Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images