Johnson out to reclaim Charlotte glory at next week’s Coke 600

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With his fourth NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory in hand, Jimmie Johnson now looks to re-assert himself as the king of NASCAR’s longest challenge — the Coca-Cola 600.

Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup champion, won three consecutive “600s” at Charlotte Motor Speedway from 2003 to 2005. But the 1.5-mile oval outside the Queen City has changed considerably since those days with a major repave taking place there in recent years, and Johnson has not won at CMS since claiming the track’s fall 500-miler in 2009. It’s a problem that he would like to correct next Sunday night.

“We’ve had decent finishes and been competitive and led laps but the track is just so different now than it was then, and we had it scienced out,” said Johnson, who takes a 44-point lead in the standings over Carl Edwards into the “600.”

“We knew literally what time in the afternoon, what the adjustment needed to be made to the car, and it was like clockwork — [it] didn’t matter the year, just every single time. It’s not that way anymore.

“We certainly want to have that magic because winning here in Hendrick [Motorsports]’s backyard and [having sponsor] Lowe’s corporate offices just up the road, there’s a lot of reasons we want to be good here. But more importantly, it’s like we know that we’ve had it so we feel like we can find it again, and we’re knocking on the door. But like I was saying earlier, we’re one of three or one of five that can make something happen here now, where before we had a pretty strict advantage.”

After winning last night, Johnson mentioned Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth as possible threats to win the “600” outside of himself, with crew chief Chad Knaus throwing Carl Edwards into the mix as well. All of those drivers have had solid success at Charlotte in their careers, particularly Kahne and Kenseth, who both have multiple Cup wins at CMS to their credit (Kahne with four, Kenseth with two).

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.