Jimmie Johnson Quiets All Critics With Win in Coca-Cola 600

 

                The 55th running of the Coca-Cola 600 started and ended with the same driver in leading the field. Jimmie Johnson won his 67th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, starting in the pole position. He was able to hold pass Matt Kenseth down the back stretch with nine laps to go and go on to the victory. For Johnson, it’s been a tough start to his 2014 season, and a lot of people in and outside of the sport were questioning if that 48 team is still a legitimate threat for a championship.

                Tonight in Charlotte Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus proved that the 48 is back, and with Dover, probably their best track, coming up next on the schedule, they could have wins in back to back weeks.

                The race started with Jimmie Johnson on the pole, and early on in the showing, Clint Bowyer looked to be his toughest competitor.

                On lap 76, Jimmie lost the lead to Kevin Harvick and he was out front for a large portion of the race. After a couple of debris cautions, by lap 145, Jimmie Johnson was back in the lead.

                After David Gilliland’s crash on lap 164, the race started to get shook up a bit. Brad Keselowski stayed out under the caution and was the new race leader.

                It was after that that Clint Bowyer felt a vibration and stopped to change two tires. His bid to win the Coca-Cola 600 was over, and Harvick was able to drive around Keselowski for the lead on lap 192.

                Danica Patrick started 4th on the field, and faded quickly until lap 219 when she started slowing down due to a lost cylinder. Danica ended up getting involved in a crash, and then blowing her engine and ending up in the 39th position.

                The fourth caution of the race had NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stay out and take the lead off the restart. After a Marcos Ambrose crash on lap 223, claiming Danica, and Josh Wise, Dale had the favor paid back to him, and seven cars, including Johnson, stayed out while he pitted. Junior was never able to get back to the lead.

                Lap 264 started another round of green flag pit stops. Jamie McMurray was leading the race, and then the man who was pulling the “Memorial Day Double,” Kurt Busch went up in smoke, ending his day at just north of 900 miles. The caution came out in the middle of the pit stop cycle, and Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray were caught a lap down when they went racing again.

                Dale Earnhardt Jr’s day was ended prematurely as his motor also started having issues, and he fell back and wound up finishing 19th. Dale never officially blew up, but like Busch and Danica, he also believed he lost a cylinder and was forced to ride it out.

                Interesting pit strategy took place later as the laps logged on. Brad Keselowski and crew chief, Paul Wolfe pitted later than the rest of the leaders, along with fellow Ford drivers, Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola. It was clear that these three drivers were willing to take the risk, and make it the rest of the way on fuel.

                Those plans for Brad were done just 5 laps later when a loose wheel forced him to come down pit road and throw his chances out the window. Brad Keselowski was still able to rebound and finish 10th.

                The interesting pit strategies continued as the leaders who pitted earlier all came down for their final stop on lap 373. Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, made a gutsy call and had Jeff take two tires on that stop. It seemed to pay off, as by doing the math, it was clear that once the pit cycle was done, Jeff Gordon would be the leader and be in position to win the race, as long as it stayed green.

                Well of course, for Jeff Gordon it didn’t. Alex Bowman blew a tire six laps later, bringing out the race’s final caution, and catching the rest of the field back up to Jeff Gordon. Everyone else had taken 4 tires on the previous pit stop. With taking two, Jeff was a sitting duck, and once the race restarted, that’s exactly what he was.

                Matt Kenseth lined up on the outside of Gordon and his Husky/Home Depot Toyota muscled around the AARP-Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet to take the lead with 21 laps to go.

                Then came Jimmie Johnson. Johnson got around Jeff on lap 386 and just started to reel in Matt Kenseth. Lap by lap, the interval started shrinking and Jimmie put the final nail in the coffin on lap 391, getting himself his first victory of the season, and solidifying his chances at the 2014 Chase.

                Kevin Harvick ended up second, Kenseth 3rd, Carl Edwards was 4th and Jamie McMurray finished 5th.

Here’s the rest of the finishing order:

6

55

Brian Vickers

7

24

Jeff Gordon

8

27

Paul Menard

9

18

Kyle Busch

10

2

Brad Keselowski

11

43

Aric Almirola

12

22

Joey Logano

13

14

Tony Stewart

14

5

Kasey Kahne

15

31

Ryan Newman

16

3

Austin Dillon ®

17

15

Clint Bowyer

18

42

Kyle Larson ®

19

88

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

20

21

Trevor Bayne (i)

21

16

Greg Biffle

22

11

Denny Hamlin

23

47

A.J. Allmendinger

24

13

Casey Mears

25

78

Martin Truex, Jr.

26

17

Ricky Stenhouse,Jr.

27

26

Cole Whitt ®

28

7

Michael Annett ®

29

9

Marcos Ambrose

30

95

Michael McDowell

31

34

David Ragan

32

33

Brian Scott (i)

33

23

Alex Bowman ®

34

66

Joe Nemechek (i)

35

32

Blake Koch (i)

36

40

Landon Cassill (i)

37

51

Justin Allgaier ®

38

83

Ryan Truex ®

39

10

Danica Patrick

40

41

Kurt Busch

41

98

Josh Wise

42

36

Reed Sorenson

43

38

David Gilliland