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.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

Follow@KyleMLavigne