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).
MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.
Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
- 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish
Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.
While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.
Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.
Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.
In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.