Published May 27, 2012
CONCORD, N.C. – When Jimmie Johnson left his pit stall with his gas can — and his gas man — still attached to his No. 48 Chevrolet it cost the five-time Sprint Cup champion a chance to win the Coca-Cola 600.
Johnson was given a stop-and-go penalty dropping him a lap behind and out of contention.
Johnson pulled down pit lane to get two tires and some gas with 46 laps to go, but as he left the stall the gas can was still attached. As he began to accelerate Brandon Harder couldn't pull the gas can out of the car and went tumbling forward into the next pit stall where the gas can finally detached.
Johnson stopped and then restarted — but the damage was done.
"I knew what I had to dump in there for us to make it to the end because we were right on the border," said Harder, who wasn't injured. "(Johnson) went and stopped again and then went again. I went for a little ride with Jimmie."
Johnson had been on a roll, winning the Southern 500 and the Sprint Cup All-Star race.
He's not sure how the problem occurred.
"I couldn't tell you," Johnson said. "We had a couple of mistakes and the last one cost us. The last couple of weeks it couldn't have gone any better. Some weeks it goes your away and some weeks it doesn't."
Harder said it was tough pill to swallow for the entire pit crew.
"Yeah, we all take it personal," Harder said. "We're our own worst critics and it's something you don't want to have happen. But it did."
The mistake is a little ironic considering it was Johnson's No. 48 pit crew team that won the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge 10 days before in Charlotte.
"Pro sports, man," Johnson said. "Nobody said it was easy."
WHEEL WOES: Marcos Ambrose started the race on the front row, but a broken left wheel hub cost him a shot at giving owner Richard Petty a victory in NASCAR's longest race Sunday.
Ambrose, who qualified second for the 400-lap race and started alongside teammate Aric Almirola, was forced to exit the race on lap 217 and immediately took the car behind the wall to be repaired.
"It's been the story of our year," said Ambrose, who came in ranked 18th in the Spring Cup standings. "We put ourselves in great position (to win), but it's a shame. We'll look to get them next week."
Just a few laps earlier, A.J. Allmendinger left the track after a similar issue costing him 36 laps.
WALLACE WANTS SHORTER SEASON: Rusty Wallace, recently selected to the NASCAR Hall of Famer, loves plenty of things about the sport. Except maybe the increased schedule.
"It's the classic case of supply and demand," Wallace said Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Too much supply and not enough demand."
Wallace won 55 Sprint Cup races in a career that stretched from 1980 to 2005. He thought the series was at its best in the mid-1990s when NASCAR ran 31 or 32 races.
This year, drivers will race in 36 events as they've done since 2001.
"Personally, I wish the schedule were 32 again," Wallace said.
Wallace still believes in NASCAR's popularity. However, he hopes the sports leaders don't water down the product with too many races.
"I love NASCAR. It's been good to me, it's made me a lot of money," Wallace said. "I think it's OK for me to give my opinion. I don't think NASCAR would get upset about that. Maybe take four races off the schedule and increase that demand that means so much."
Wallace, an ESPN broadcaster, was selected for the 2013 Hall of Fame class Wednesday along with four pioneers of the sport in Leonard Wood, Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker. The group will be inducted in February.
Wallace likes the safety improvements and what NASCAR's doing to keep cars racing side-by-side. Wallace saw plenty of that in Saturday's Nationwide Series won by Brad Keselowski.
"It's going to be slick. These cars are going to be slipping and sliding that should make for a good race," Wallace said.
MONTOYA BEATS FRANCHITTI: Dario Franchitti didn't win everything Sunday.
Chip Ganassi Racing announced that driver Juan Pablo Montoya claimed the All-Time Greatest Chip Ganassi Racing Driver title after fans participated in four rounds of voting. Montoya beat Franchitti, who won his third Indianapolis 500 title Sunday, in the final round of the voting to decide the overall winner in the social media promotion.
With both the IndyCar Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holding two of their largest events of the season Sunday, Ganassi Racing launched its first greatest-driver bracket to encourage fans to vote for the best driver.
Nearly 12,000 votes were submitted.
"It's great to see the fans get so involved with the contest and for them to pick me makes it that much better," Montoya said. "I was up against some tough competition but my fans and Twitter followers pulled through for me."
THE DANICA IMPACT: Danica Patrick has drawn plenty of attention since she began participating in the Sprint Cup series this year.
That doesn't surprise five-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson.
"In watching the television broadcast, they obviously pay a lot of attention to where she is on the track," Johnson said. "What I have learned through the years in the sport is those cameras focus where everybody wants to see, where the majority wants to see, where the eyeballs are paying attention and focused. There is a reason for it. I don't have any feeling one way or the other. I mean it's all marketing; all part of our sport."
But Johnson's glad Patrick has joined NASCAR. "I think she brings a huge fan base and hopefully a brand new fan base for our sport," Johnson said.
DO PRACTICE LAPS MATTER?: Coca-Cola 600 pole sitter Aric Almirola, like a lot of drivers this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, didn't spend a whole lot of time on practice runs leading up to the 600-mile race.
"It was pretty hot (on Saturday) and I don't know that we learn a whole lot, so we worked on some things trying to maximize getting on and off pit road and getting ready," Almirola said. "I don't see how you can work on your car to get it good right now when the track temp is 120 to 125 degrees and it's going to be 90 degrees Sunday night."
Teammate Marcos Ambrose, second in qualifying, felt the same way.
"It would be nice to feel like you're at the top of the time sheet going into the race, but I think if you're on top of the sheet in the heat you're probably not going to be that good when the sun goes down."
TALE OF TWO RACES: Howard Comstock of SRT Motorsports said the Coca-Cola 600 is a tale of two races because the first 300 miles are in the heat, while the last 300 are in the cool of the night.
He believes that benefits teams with experienced crew chiefs.
"If you don't have adjustability built into the cars, you're going to suffer because it'll be hot and slippery the first part of the race and then we see the race getting faster as it goes on, rather than slower," Comstock said. "Even though the track gets rubbered up there's nothing like Charlotte with that cool night air and losing sunlight off the racetrack."
MICHIGAN IS WAITING: The Sprint Cup series will be at the Michigan International Speedway on June 17 and early talk is the track is expected to be extremely quick after being repaved.
Jeff Gordon is among those who tested there.
"The track has a lot of grip and I'm anxious to see what happens when we get back there with multiple cars," Gordon said. "And the temperatures are probably going to be a lot higher too. It's going to be challenging to maintain the pace that we're going to be able to run there. But I've always love Michigan and I was just happy to know that other than new pavement and a smooth race track, not a lot had changed, which I was happy to hear."
LUGNUTS: Country singer Tim McGraw introduced the field Sunday. ... Actress and swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, a Charlotte native, served as the honorary race director. Prior to the race, she spent time in victory lane with Danica Patrick. They met while modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated.