(Photo: AP/Chuck Burton)

Jimmie Johnson breaks 2014 winless streak, captures Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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Jimmie Johnson fans can relax:

Their favorite driver finally won his first race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, holding off late runs by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a result and with his 67th career Sprint Cup win, Johnson is now on-track to make this year’s new and revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, of which he’s the defending and six-time champion.

What a relief to end what had been tied for your worst winless start to a season, right, Jimmie?

“Absolutely, it’s great to win,” Johnson told Fox Sports in victory lane. “But I promise you, all the hype and concern and worry was elsewhere, it wasn’t in my head. There are plenty of voices in my head, I’m not going to lie.

“We’ve had a great race team, we’ve had opportunity in front of us and had stuff taken away from us, and we’ve had some bad races, I have to be honest about that, too.”

Johnson, who led 10 different times in Sunday’s race, moves up to third on the Chase-eligible standings and hopes Sunday is the first of many more wins to come.

“It was just a long race, so many things going on,” said Johnson, who snapped an overall 13-race winless streak that dated back to the latter part of last season. “Hopefully this 48 is heading that way and we get those other people thinking about us.”

Johnson, who started from the pole position, led a race-high 165 laps and ultimately won by 1.2 seconds over Harvick.

It was Johnson’s seventh career win at CMS, a new record for most wins by a driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Runner-up Harvick, who had won two of the last three 600s, led 100 laps — only to fall short.

Harvick called out his pit crew for falling short.

“We had a loose wheel and we got behind and it took us the rest of the night to get back up front,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road and we have to get that cleaned up because we obviously can’t win races even with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road. It’s frustrating.”

Kenseth, who led 33 laps, said he just wasn’t able to hold off Johnson from passing him late in the race and motor on to the checkered flag and victory lane.

“I thought we had a top-five car,” Kenseth said. “We had great strategy and great stops. They (his crew) had me in front of (Johnson) but just couldn’t hold them off. We just need to get a little better. … You’re disappointed when you don’t hold them off and don’t come home with a victory, but we were just too tight to hold them off.”

Carl Edwards finished fourth, while last week’s Sprint All-Star Race winner, Jamie McMurray, finished fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who led 43 laps before fading near the end of the event.

Johnson led after 100 miles, Harvick led after 200 and 300 miles, McMurray led after 400 miles and Keselowski led after 500 miles.

The Sprint Cup points standings saw marginal change in the top-10.

Gordon remains in first place, Kenseth is still in second (11 points behind Gordon), Kyle Busch remains in third and is now tied with Edwards (both -24), Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell to fifth place (-38), Johnson climbs one spot to sixth (-44), Joey Logano fell to seventh (-54), Brian Vickers (-67) moved up two places to eighth, Brad Keselowski moved up two places into a tie for ninth with Ryan Newman (both -71).

 

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Kurt Busch’s bid to become only the second driver to ever complete the “Double” – complete all 1,100 miles between the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 – came up short when his Stewart Haas Racing’s Chevrolet suffered motor failure on Lap 274, 126 laps from the finish.

Busch completed 906 miles of racing before the motor let go on the Charlotte Motor Speedway backstretch. Busch ultimately finished 40th on the 43-driver grid.

“The motor blew,” Busch told Fox Sports’ Jeff Hammond. “It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once, so it was real slow. It’s kind of a shame. It almost symbolizes how tough it’s been on the Haas Automation team. We gave it our all and were clawing our way back up.

“To feel the stock car right after driving an Indy car was a day I’ll never forget. And I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen with what happened up in Indy today. It was very special.”

Busch’s team co-owner, Tony Stewart, remains the only driver to complete both ends of the so-called “Double,” doing so in 2001.

“The Stewart-Haas guys gave me a good car tonight and the motor just went. Sometimes, that just happens.”

While upset at falling short of achieving his goal, Busch took the motor failure in stride.

“All-in-all, I’m satisfied,” he said. “I gave it my all.”

 

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Busch’s SHR teammate Danica Patrick wasn’t satisfied in her day, finishing 39th.

First, after quick repairs by her team allowed her to come back after being rammed in the back of her Chevy during Marcos Ambrose’s spin on Lap 235, Patrick’s day also ended early.

Patrick’s car was already operating with at least one cylinder down during much of the race. Prior to that happening, she had been challenging pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson for the lead early on.

But then came Lap 286, 12 laps after Busch’s motor blew up, and Patrick’s motor followed suit.

“Sorry guys, it’s definitely not what we had wanted, but we did some good things this weekend,” Patrick told her crew over the team radio.

Patrick was hoping for a second strong finish, having wound up with a career-best seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Kansas.

She had been optimistic coming into Sunday’s race after qualifying fourth and ranking in the top 10 in both final practice sessions on Saturday.

 

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The first big wreck of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 occurred on Lap 235 of the 400-lap event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Marcos Ambrose’s Ford spun. Patrick was close to avoiding the incident until Brian Scott couldn’t slow down in time, making contact with Patrick’s car and sending her into the wall, suffering moderate damage on her Chevrolet.

“Idiot,” Patrick said over her team radio. “I mean, really, who the hell did not see that coming?”

Also caught up in the wreck, Josh Wise then made contact with Landon Cassill.

Earlier in the race on Lap 160, David Gilliland‘s day came to an abrupt end when he apparently cut down a tire and slammed into the wall.

 

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Also of note, Jeff Gordon came into the race still suffering from back spasms that caused him to cut short his first practice run and completely miss the entire second practice session Saturday.

Even though Regan Smith was on standby to replace him if needed, Gordon managed to stay in the event for its entirety, finishing seventh.

“It was better than Saturday morning, that’s what I was thankful for,” Gordon said of how his back felt. “There were procedures and different work … there was quite a few people that were tending to me, and I appreciate every one of them and I don’t think I would have gotten through this long race (without their efforts).

“It was a good effort, I’m happy I got through it. It tells me what kind of threshold I have and I just wanted to show this team the kind of commitment I have to them because of what they’ve shown me this year.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Coca-Cola 600

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord, North Carolina

Sunday, May 25, 2014

               1. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, $465626.

               2. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, $304313.

               3. (12) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, $249941.

               4. (22) Carl Edwards, Ford, 400, $174980.

               5. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, $186219.

               6. (16) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 400, $166870.

               7. (27) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $169906.

               8. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, $150834.

               9. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, $164761.

               10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, $166653.

               11. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, $154546.

               12. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, $151501.

               13. (18) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 400, $148468.

               14. (3) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 399, $131660.

               15. (42) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 399, $121260.

               16. (32) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 399, $156696.

               17. (5) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 399, $146026.

               18. (25) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 398, $134680.

               19. (10) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $115460.

               20. (14) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 398, $103435.

               21. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 398, $146385.

               22. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 398, $112985.

               23. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 398, $121518.

               24. (34) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 398, $126643.

               25. (15) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $129593.

               26. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 397, $137310.

               27. (31) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 397, $96960.

               28. (39) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 396, $113893.

               29. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 396, $126255.

               30. (30) Michael McDowell, Ford, 396, $97685.

               31. (35) David Ragan, Ford, 395, $118793.

               32. (19) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 395, $108457.

              33. (29) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 392, $98760.

               34. (38) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 390, $106135.

               35. (43) Blake Koch(i), Ford, 390, $95485.

               36. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 382, $95385.

               37. (17) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 378, $103154.

               38. (36) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, Engine, 303, $89350.

               39. (4) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Engine, 281, $95850.

               40. (28) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Engine, 271, $81350.

               41. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Accident, 229, $77350.

               42. (41) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 162, $73350.

               43. (33) David Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 160, $77850.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  145.484 mph.

Time of Race:  4 Hrs, 07 Mins, 27 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.272 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 44 laps.

Lead Changes:  34 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Johnson 0; B. Keselowski 1; J. Johnson 2-47; B. Keselowski 48-49; J. Johnson 50-75; K. Harvick 76-95; J. Johnson 96-97; K. Harvick 98-108; J. Johnson 109; K. Harvick 110-149; J. Johnson 150-164; B. Keselowski 165-191; K. Harvick 192-212; J. Gordon 213; D. Earnhardt Jr. 214; J. McMurray 215; K. Harvick 216-223; J. Johnson 224; D. Earnhardt Jr. 225-236; J. McMurray 237-240; M. Kenseth 241; J. McMurray 242-270; M. Kenseth 271-276; J. Gordon 277; J. Johnson 278-293; M. Kenseth 294-311; J. Johnson 312-330; B. Keselowski 331-343; A. Almirola 344; J. Johnson 345-373; J. Gordon 374-375; C. Edwards 376-379; J. Gordon 380-383; M. Kenseth 384-391; J. Johnson 392-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  J. Johnson 10 times for 164 laps; K. Harvick 5 times for 100 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 43 laps; J. McMurray 3 times for 34 laps; M. Kenseth 4 times for 33 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 13 laps; J. Gordon 4 times for 8 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 4 laps; A. Almirola 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon – 432; M. Kenseth – 421; Kyle Busch – 408; C. Edwards – 408; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 394; J. Johnson – 388; J. Logano – 378; B. Vickers – 365; B. Keselowski – 361; R. Newman – 361; G. Biffle – 351; K. Harvick – 345; K. Larson # – 344; D. Hamlin – 340; A. Dillon # – 334; P. Menard – 328.

Rosberg takes Belgian GP pole, Verstappen scores first front-row start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo  on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position after dominating qualifying at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon.

With Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Lewis Hamilton dropping out in Q1 as a tactical move due to his grid penalty, Rosberg was left largely unchallenged in the battle for pole.

Red Bull and Ferrari showed glimmers of pace in practice, but when it came to qualifying, Rosberg was able to turn up the wick and continue Mercedes’ pole streak dating back to the Monaco Grand Prix.

Despite failing to improve with his final flying lap in Q3, a fastest time of 1:46.744 saw Rosberg take pole by 0.149 seconds ahead of Verstappen in P2.

Verstappen was the only driver to really push Rosberg, and although he was also unable to improve on his final effort, second place marked his best F1 qualifying result to date. He also becomes the youngest ever driver to start on the front row of the grid in F1.

Four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen qualified third for Ferrari, edging out Sebastian Vettel in P4. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth in the second Red Bull, finishing over three-tenths off Verstappen’s pace.

Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg qualified sixth and seventh for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas in P8, while Jenson Button and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10, finishing over a second off Rosberg’s pole time.

Haas enjoyed a somewhat routine qualifying as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both reached Q2 for the eighth race in a row. Grosjean qualified 11th with Gutierrez two places behind in 13th. Gutierrez will drop five places on the grid for blocking a driver in practice.

Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge in P12, while teammate Jolyon Palmer enjoyed his best qualifying of the year to finish 14th ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Manor also produced a strong display in qualifying as Pascal Wehrlein reached Q2, finishing ninth in the opening session. The German ultimately finished 16th, with teammate Esteban Ocon finishing P18 in his first F1 qualifying outing.

The impact of Sauber’s car updates for Belgium were evident in Q1 as Felipe Nasr finished within one-tenth of a place in Q2. The Brazilian was left to settle for P17 on the grid, with teammate Marcus Ericsson in 20th. Daniil Kvyat’s ongoing struggles continued as he qualified 19th for Toro Rosso, finishing behind Ocon by 0.008 seconds.

With a 55-place grid penalty looming for a series of power unit changes, Mercedes opted to limit Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying program as much as possible. The Briton posted a time quick enough to qualify for the race, good enough for 21st place.

“This is the best strategic approach in order to maximize his opportunities from the back of the field tomorrow, in terms of new tire sets,” Mercedes confirmed.

Hamilton finished ahead only of Fernando Alonso, who was unable to post a time after coming to a stop at the top of Eau Rouge. The McLaren driver also has a sizeable grid penalty to take into Sunday’s race.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.

Simon Pagenaud: IndyCar’s one-day return to Texas is ‘weird’

Simon Pagenaud
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FORT WORTH – Yes, it’s absurd.

Simon Pagenaud is still answering questions about the Firestone 600.

That’s what happens when you start a race on June 12 (and meant to start June 11) and never finished it.

Throw in a few torrential downpours, a lack of communication between Texas Motor Speedway and IndyCar, and you have the series returning to Fort Worth, Texas, today. That’s 77 days later that the green flag will drop to finish the last 177 laps of the race.

Pagenaud, who will restart 15th, can’t do anything but laugh at the situation.

“It’s weird, the whole team is only showing up tomorrow and we’re going to have 10 minutes of practice and then race,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “It’s going to be a short weekend. Obviously, it’s going to be a pretty short race. It’s going to be a sprint.”

MORE: McFadin column: At least IndyCar is coming back for this Firestone 600

The series completed 71 laps in June before the rain sent teams scrambling for cover in the garage and then away from TMS. They went on to compete in five races before today, with Pagenaud keeping hold of his points leads. That’s after his Team Penske teammate Will Power won three of those races and Pagenaud wrecked at Pocono.

And yes, the remaining 20 cars in the field will be given just 20 minutes to practice Saturday evening – 10 minutes for the front half of the field, 10 minutes for the back half.

After a 77 day red flag, you have to get down to business.

“I don’t know if that’s an advantage or a disadvantage,” Pagenaud said. “We don’t have any time to change anything. They impound the cars pretty quickly after practice, so you don’t get to do anything on the cars. It’s really a driving exercise and nothing else.”

And they’ll be racing at night, with a scheduled green flag just after 8:15 p.m. ET. In June, teams practiced in the mid to late afternoon with the intent to race under the lights.

Then it rained. The green flag dropped well after 2 p.m. CT the next day. Now IndyCar will race in the conditions they originally intended – more or less.

“Because we didn’t practice to race at night, the behavior of the car is going to be different, but we have enough data from years past to know which way it’s going to go and how to balance the car. It’s definitely going to be a bit of a guess,” Pagenaud said. “The best engineer-driver combination should win the race. ”

Through 13 and half races this season, the best combination has been on Pagenaud’s No. 22 car. The Frenchman has four wins and seven poles. Entering 2016, he had only two poles in his previous five seasons.

At Texas, Pagenaud has only one top five (fourth, 2014).

Tonight, Pagenaud (should) get to finish his fifth Texas race and the points leader thinks the two month wait to finish the Firestone 600 will be worth it.

“We might have more edgy cars than during the day,” Pagenaud said. “It’s just something we’ve seen throughout the years. The track just changes when the sun goes down. I think it’s better for the fans. It’s a better show.”

After a record-setting intermission, the show must go on.

Perez: Sponsors yet to make decision on F1 future

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India walks in the Paddock before final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez has confirmed that his sponsors are yet to make a decision about his Formula 1 future as speculation about a move away from Force India persists.

Force India team owner Vijay Mallya said over the British Grand Prix weekend that both Perez and teammate Nico Hulkenberg were under contract for 2017.

However, Perez revealed that although this was correct, his Mexican sponsors were yet to decide whether or not to continue with Force India, the understanding being that his contract has an escape clause.

Perez previously said his sponsors would make a decision on his future over the summer break, but explained in Spa on Thursday that nothing has been firmed up.

“They’ve decided nothing yet. I hope in the next couple of months, we can announce where I’m heading or what I’m doing with my future,” Perez told NBCSN.

“I’m not stressed about it. I know whatever happens, that will be the best for my future. I will give my best. Right now I want to focus on Spa, enjoy the present and try to close up the gap to Williams and beat Williams.”

Perez stressed that he is happy at Force India despite being linked with moves to Renault and Williams.

“I’ve always said that I’m very happy here in the team. I’ve had a tremendous three years here, a lot of enjoyment,” Perez said.

“I think it’s a very key part of the decision that wherever you are that you enjoy what you’re doing, you have fun and you like the people, and here I enjoy it a lot.

“We’ll see what happens obviously. The decision is not fully on my side but we’ll see.”

Raikkonen quickest, Mercedes struggles in final Belgian GP practice

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen offered a glimpse of his affinty for the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps by leading the final Formula 1 practice session on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying.

After seeing Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen share the practice spoils on Friday, Raikkonen hit back with a fastest lap of 1:47.974 to finish two-tenths of a second clear of Daniel Ricciardo.

Red Bull driver Ricciardo led for much of the session after completing his super-soft run early on, but still finishing ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari.

Valtteri Bottas finished the session fourth for Williams ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who could only go P5 with a late lap in FP3 after a mistake at the final chicane. Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg could only finish P7 as Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg split the pair. Felipe Massa was eighth for Williams ahead of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean.

Verstappen completed just two laps for Red Bull before being forced to sit out the remainder of the session due to a gearbox sensor issue. Marcus Ericsson could only manage five laps before a problem on his Sauber curtailed his running.

FP3 also saw a couple of near-misses between drivers on-track. Pascal Wehrlein was left fuming after being blocked by Esteban Gutierrez on the Kemmel Straight, while Vettel was less than impressed after a close run with Kevin Magnussen, saying over the radio: “It’s free practice, who gives a s**t?”

Qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.