Johnson sweeps Charlotte with wet victory

CONCORD, NC - Jimmie Johnson motored the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy from worst to first to score the victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Just one week after becoming the million dollar man at The Winston, Johnson experienced an engine problem before ...

CONCORD, NC - Jimmie Johnson motored the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy from worst to first to score the victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Just one week after becoming the million dollar man at The Winston, Johnson experienced an engine problem before qualifying and was forced to start at the rear of the field.

Methodically, Johnson avoided wrecks and worked his way to the front of the pack and was sitting in the catbird seat when a heavy downpour soaked the race track stopping the field at lap 276. NASCAR called the race 'official' after realizing there was no way to dry the track in a timely fashion.

"Last year we did so well but we didn't close the deal," said Johnson. "This year, having a different mindset of wanting to be competitive and working on the race car all day long but have some patience and be up front when it counts and play this game of smarts a little bit more seems to be working. We used our heads in The Winston and we used our heads all day long today and raced there at the end when we had to. We had great pit stops and here we sit with the win."

This is Johnson's third victory in Charlotte and fourth points win of his career.

"I don't mean to sound mellow," said Johnson. "But it doesn't seem like we won a Winston Cup race. We didn't battle to the finish line and I didn't have a chance to blow my tires on the frontstretch."

Johnson joins an elite class of drivers that include Gordon, Earnhardt, D. Allison and D. Waltrip as the fifth driver to win The Winston and the Coca- Cola 600 in the same weekend.

Placing second was Matt Kenseth. The Winston Cup point leader extends his lead over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from twenty to 160 points.

"You know, I am happy finishing second," said Kenseth. "But I'm certainly not happy calling the race at 9:30 at night. It's the biggest race of the year and it's not even raining so I hope the rain hits here pretty hard, pretty soon so all the fans will feel like they're not cheated and so will the rest of us that aren't in first - feel like they did the right thing.

"But right now it's not raining and it's 9:30 at night. I sure wish we would have waited it out a little bit and had a shot at it. I'm real thankful and real grateful to finish second and to be with such a great race team, but the racer in me still wanted to race."

Bobby Labonte, who at one point in the race was the only car on the lead lap, finished third.

"I couldn't go quick there once I was in the lead," said Labonte. "I got passed by four cars and I just couldn't go fast for that one lap. We worked all the way around our car and couldn't get it just right.

"It was still too loose on the entry and loose off. After that first set of tires, it was loose all the time. We tightened it up a little bit but we didn't tighten it up in the right place. We tightened it up too much in the center, but we kept working with it and working with it. I'd love to be able to race some more, but that's the way it goes."

Jimmy Spencer and pole sitter Ryan Newman round out the top five.

"We don't mind a top five after the way out year's been" said Newman. "I wish we could have got a chance to try and win. That's what it's all about. We needed a good pit stop we were fast at first, but I had to slow down a bit at the beginning because we were getting a little hot."

Johnson might go into the record books as the victor of the spring classic at Charlotte but Mother Nature was the real winner of the Coca-Cola 600. Rain was the story all week, as heavy storm cells battered the greater Charlotte metro area. Sunday morning showers caused the first three laps of the show to be run under green/yellow conditions to assure that the racing surface was dry.

When the green flag finally was displayed pole sitter Ryan Newman led twice for fifty laps before relinquishing the lead to Tony Stewart. Stewart's Chevy looked stealth, as the No. 20 at times pulled out to a three second lead over the field.

Stewart rocked until lap 106, when a light rain began to pepper the race track at Lowe's Motor Speedway slowing the action. NASCAR brought out the red flag a lap later and stopped the field on pit road with Tony Stewart leading the event.

The field was halted for 19 minutes before showers moved out of the area and the green flag waved. Tony Stewart initially led the race after the restart but a mechanical difficulty developed on the No. 20 Gibbs Chevy at lap 122 that dropped Stewart backwards through the top ten.

Stewart got a reprieve a few laps later when the No. 19 Dodge of Jeremy Mayfield cut a right front tire and hit the wall in turn one bringing out the day's third caution. The subsequent yellow flag allowed the No. 20 team to raise the hood on Stewart's Chevy and access the situation. The Home Depot crew, however, was unable to pinpoint the exact issue. They made several stops in the pits but managed to rejoin the grid as the last car on the lead lap. Stewart made about 25 more circuits, before the No. 20 Chevy finally expired on lap 159.

Various bandages were applied to Stewart's car, although a final determination on the problem still could not be garnered. He rejoined the field on lap 187.

The defending Winston Cup champion has had four DNF's in the last seven races; he entered Charlotte 18th in series rankings. His 40th place finish drops him two spots to 20th.

"I don't know what happened, commented Stewart. "I don't know if it was something we touched or what. All we did was pull the valve covers off and looked at everything, put four new plugs in I, checked everything, put it back out and it was just hauling again.

"So, I don't know. It's just a very disappointing night."

At lap 198, after a round of green flag pit stops involving the leaders, Ricky Rudd in the No. 21 Woods Brothers Ford ran out of gas, missed the turn onto pit road and spun through the frontstretch grass bringing out the day's fourth caution.

That caught a lot of quality race teams that were competing for the victory a lap down (including leader Matt Kenseth) and catapulting the No. 18 Gibbs Chevy of Bobby Labonte into the lead. Only three cars remained on the lead lap after the No. 21's spin, Labonte, Biffle and Earnhardt.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who entered the event just twenty points shy of the Winston Cup point lead, ran in the top ten during the races early laps but a pit miscue forced him to the 24th position. The No. 8 DEI Chevy rebounded after the leaders were caught a lap down after Rudd's spin.

Earnhardt moved up into the top three, but at lap 223 Earnhardt lost control of the No. 8 Chevy bringing out the fifth caution of the event. Earnhardt developed slight quarter-panel damage when his Monte Carlo spanked the wall. Earnhardt's rear brake rotor caught fire on pit road, and continued to plague him throughout the race.

The yellow, however, did allow for the cars of Kenseth, Gordon, Busch, Johnson, Marlin, Waltrip, Newman, Spencer to get back on the lead lap.

Steve Park making his second appearance in the No. 30 RCR Chevy was the culprit responsible for the sixth caution flag of the event when he spun his Monte Carlo. After the restart, leader Bobby Labonte was unable to maintain the top dog position, as the cars of Kenseth, Gordon, Busch and Johnson motored by the No. 18 Chevy.

The seventh yellow unfurled when Kevin Harvick's experienced problems on lap 240. That caution was a lucky break for the Kurt Busch, who developed a cut tire while running third. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was on the unlucky end of that yellow; Earnhardt was on pit road still trying to solve an overheated rear brake rotor and caught a lap down. The brake rotor on the No. 8 Chevy continued to be visibly hot, and he finally pulled his car into the garage at lap 242.

"We can always fix anything," Earnhardt said of his Chevy. "But this sucks."

Earnhardt was able to reenter the competition at lap 270. He finished 41st.

"It looks like we had a brake proportioing valve go bad," said Tony Eury Earnhardt's crew chief. "I don't know what the reason was, that's just what I am assuming right now."

The yellows just kept coming, as the eight caution flapped at lap 265 when Ricky Craven's engine expired dumping fluid on the track. Also involved were John Andretti, Larry Foyt and Elliott Sadler.

Jimmie Johnson rocketed the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy into the lead at lap 266, just a few laps before the second red flag came out for a heavy rain shower at lap 276.

After about fifteen minutes, NASCAR called the race after determining that the track would take upwards of three hours to dry, and more storms would move into the area in that time.

Also playing into the sanctioning body's decision was the safety of the fans. Unrelenting rain all week had turned various parts of the speedway into a mud bog; as it was, at the race start thirty percent of the track's parking facilities were unusable. Fears abounded that further yawing rain would increase the possibility of fans being unable to exit the facility in a safe and reasonable manner.

This was the fourth rain shortened Coca-Cola 600 to be entered into the NASCAR annals. Previously the races in years 1969, 1971 and 1997 also fell to weather.

Notably, Robby Gordon, who placed 22nd earlier Sunday in the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500, finished 17th.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Steve Park , Jimmy Spencer , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Larry Foyt , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Elliott Sadler