Johnson class of field at Charlotte

Johnson class of field at Charlotte

Jimmie Johnson, behind the wheel of the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy, classed the field all night long to earn his second win of the season. Johnson led 501 miles of 600 mile event, making it look easy as he sailed his Chevrolet into victory lane for...

Jimmie Johnson, behind the wheel of the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy, classed the field all night long to earn his second win of the season. Johnson led 501 miles of 600 mile event, making it look easy as he sailed his Chevrolet into victory lane for third time at Lowe's Motor Speedway (Charlotte 2003, The Winston 2003).

Race winner Jimmie Johnson celebrates with his team.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
"That car was so good," said Johnson. "There were times when some of the guys were better, but we just stuck to our game plan and the changes that we were going to make and knew what we needed to do. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) was on top of it and this Lowe's Monte Carlo was awesome.

"How can you beat winning at home?"

Johnson's win is the seventh victory at the Coca-Cola 600 for team owner Rick Hendrick, and eighth of Johnson's career.

"It really was a lot of fun," Johnson said. "In some cases it's almost better to be in second or third than be out front, you really have the bull's-eye on you. There is a lot more pressure leading a race and leading that much of it. We were lucky not making any mistakes in the pits or on the track.

"Glad that we pulled it all together and had a clean day, it's just an incredible day."

It was a stellar weekend for Hendrick Motorsports and Lowe's all the way around, Kyle Busch and the No. 5 Lowe's Chevy team was also victorious in the Busch series race on Saturday.

"The employee owners at Lowe's have got to be freaking out right about now," laughed Johnson.

Michael Waltrip garnered his best and so far the only top-five finish of the season, a second place.

"We knew that we were a good team last fall," Waltrip said. "At the start of this year we couldn't find our rear ends. We changed the down force. We ran in the top five most of the day. Late in the race we got too tight. Nobody, it seemed, was going to beat Jimmie. We were confident coming here. We wanted to capitalize on a little momentum we had going in here.

"He (Johnson) was a lot better than we were. Jimmie not only led, but when people tried to overcome him with pit strategy, he overcame that too."

Matt Kenseth.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
After looking over video tape, NASCAR re-scored the event, granting Matt Kenseth third place honors over Jamie McMurray (who was initially announced by NASCAR as the third place recipient).

"We weren't going to run with the 48," commented Kenseth. "But I thought we could run with the other guys. Our car was pretty strong at the end of the race, but we didn't have anything for the 48. I thought maybe we could get to second, but we just didn't have it there at the end."

McMurray had to settle for fourth after making a plucky move to not pit during a final round of pit stops which boosted him to the front of the pack.

"We made a gutsy move, but we knew we didn't have much for the 48," said McMurray. "Johnson was good from the start/finish line pretty much all the way around to the start/finish line."

Elliott Sadler pulled off a fifth place result, after leading four times for 41 laps.

"I am so proud of my guys," commented an exhausted Sadler. "I have been sick this week, we got to lap 156 on that long run and I thought there was no way I can make it. This is really good for this race team, I am so proud of my team right now."

During the first 299 laps it was the Jimmie Johnson/Elliott Sadler show at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In the first half of the race, they traded the top spot several times, as they began to lap the rest of the field. No other car could come close to Johnson and Sadler, as they paced the grid at times by over 3-seconds.

It seemed as if the NEXTEL Cup stars had their fill of wild rides and wrecks at Charlotte last weekend at the All-Star Challenge, as stock car racing longest night rarely saw a caution. Most of the field was a lap down, when the first yellow finally waved at lap 161 when Johnny Sauter backed the No. 30 RCR Chevy into the wall.

Long green flag runs continued as Johnson and Sadler continued to put a hurting on the competition. By lap 212, only nine cars were on the lead lap. Sadler seemed to be the only car able to stay tail-to-tail with the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy. Sadler stayed within 2-3 seconds of Johnson, with the third place car running some thirteen seconds behind.

The second yellow of the evening did not come out until lap 233, when the No. 16 Roush Racing Ford of Greg Biffle lost an engine spraying the track with fluids. That allowed the No. 8 DEI Chevy of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to regain position on the lead lap.

Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
As Johnson continued his charge to victory lane, Sadler began to fall off on lap 300, as the No. 9 and No. 19 Evernham Dodges of Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield and the No. 42 Ganassi Dodge of Jamie McMurray all motored past Sadler's 38 Ford.

Kahne began to catch Johnson's ride, when a caution on lap 338 (caused by Ryan Newman bumping the No. 1 DEI Chevy of John Andretti) bunched the strung out field The third yellow of the night brought the leaders to pit road, for welcome caution flag pit stops.

Johnson managed to beat Kahne out of the box, and maintain the lead of the race leaving Kahne in the dust by 2.2-seconds. A caution for debris, however, at lap 348 once again gave Kahne the opportunity to try and keep time with Johnson.

On the restart at lap 355, Johnson once again proved that the No. 48 had the horsepower to get the job done. The No. 48 blew Kahne to bits, as he roared to a 2-second head of steam at the front of the pack.

It seemed as if every time Johnson put distance between himself and the No. 9 Dodge, the racing Gods would throw a wrench in Team 48's plans. The fifth yellow of the evening waved with 32 laps to go, as Ryan Newman wrecked after contact with Derrike Cope.

The leaders once again visited pit road, but the third place No. 42 Dodge of Jamie McMurray elected to remain on the track. Michael Waltrip's No. 15 team took two tires, and moved into the second position. The No. 9 and 19 Dodges of Kahne and Mayfield both beat Johnson off pit road, sending the No. 48 from first to fifth.

It was no contest for the newly found top five, as the rocket ship piloted by Johnson motored back to the lead by lap 384. He was in the lead by 3- seconds, when Ryan Newman blew-up with seven laps to go.

NASCAR red-flagged the event in an effort to give the fans a green flag finish. That set up a three lap green shoot-out to the checkers. In the end, as in the beginning, it was all Johnson. Even a final lap wreck by the No. 18 of Bobby Labonte did not aide the rest of the field, as Johnson easily safeguarded his seat as the defending race winner of the Coca-Cola 600 from the pole position.

Notably Robby Gordon attempted the Indy/Charlotte double-duty Sunday but was foiled by rain at Indianapolis. He missed the mandatory drivers' meeting, and had to start from the rear of the field after having qualified 20th.

Gordon was forced to leave his Indy ride to the hands of standby driver Jacques Lazier after torrential rains fell on the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 at just lap 29. Lazier finished the event in the 29th spot. Gordon finished the Coca-Cola 600 three laps down, in the 20th position.

The win pushes Johnson within five championship points of leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Matt Kenseth (-116), Jeff Gordon (-144) and Tony Stewart (- 211) complete the top five in the NEXTEL Chase for the Championship.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Derrike Cope , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Eric Gilbert , Elliott Sadler , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports