Johnson prevails in Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

Concord, NC ( - Jimmie Johnson had been winless in the first 11 races this season, but the six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion ended his drought on Sunday night with another stellar performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson won a Sprint Cup points-paying race at this 1.5-mile racetrack for a record seventh time after passing Matt Kenseth for the lead with nine laps to go in the Coca-Cola 600 -- the longest event of the NASCAR season. The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet started on the pole and led a race-high 164 laps.

It was the second time in Johnson's illustrious Cup career that it took him 12 races to score his first victory of the season. His first win of the 2003 season came in the 600-mile race at Charlotte.

"There are more people fretting about things than myself," said Johnson, whose last win came on Nov. 3 at Texas. "I mean, what 12 races? Give me a break. Obviously, it's great to win, and we are very happy to win here, especially in the backyard of Hendrick Motorsports."

Johnson has now surpassed Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most wins at Charlotte. Four of Johnson's victories here have come in the Coca-Cola 600.

"That is amazing," he said. "This is no easy racetrack to get around, and to beat the greats that were before me, I'm very proud of that."

Johnson has now won at least one race in 13 consecutive seasons, since his rookie year in 2002. His win at Charlotte also virtually assured him a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is the only driver who has been in the playoffs for NASCAR's premier series each season since its inception in 2004.

Kevin Harvick rallied in the closing laps to finish second, crossing the line 1.3 seconds behind Johnson. Harvick, who had won two of the last three 600- mile races at Charlotte, led a total of 100 laps.

"We had a fast car all night," Harvick said. "Just kind of fumbled again on pit road. Got behind, got a lap down. We needed a 700-mile race to get back to where we needed to be."

Kenseth ended up finishing third. He has yet to win a race this year after scoring a series-season-high seven victories in 2013.

"I thought we had a top-five car all night," Kenseth said. "Great pit stops, great adjustments. Just couldn't hang on to it at the end."

Carl Edwards finished fourth, while Jamie McMurray, who won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte eight days ago, took the fifth spot. Brian Vickers was sixth.

Jeff Gordon finished seventh after suffering from back spasms on Saturday, which forced him to miss the final practice and cast doubt if he would be able to compete in this race. Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith had been on standby for Gordon, the four-time Cup champion and current points leader.

"It was better than Saturday morning, and that was what I was thankful for," Gordon said. "I think the procedures and different forms of therapy that I did worked. There were quite a few people that were tending to me, and I appreciate every one of them. I don't think I would have gotten through this long race. It was tough. I was aching in there."

The 42-year-old Gordon has had back problems in the past. He began to experience pain in his back during Thursday night's qualifying session for this race. He qualified 27th.

Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who won at Charlotte last October, completed the top-10.

Kurt Busch became the first driver in a decade to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola on the same day, but Busch came up short in his attempt to complete all 1,100 miles of racing.

Driving an entry for Andretti Autosport, Busch finished sixth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completing all 200 laps, 500 miles there. His teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, won the race.

At Charlotte, Busch suffered engine failure and was out of the race after completing 271 laps. He wound up finishing 40th. Busch arrived at the track about an hour and a half before the green flag waved. He had to start from the rear of the field since he missed the drivers' meeting.

In all, Busch completed 906.5 of 1,100 miles in his Indy/Charlotte double, the first time he has attempted this feat. Tony Stewart, who is Busch's teammate and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, is the only driver who completed the full 1,100 miles on the same day, doing so in 2001.

"To feel the stock car right after driving an Indy car was a day I will never forget," Busch said. "I can't let the mood here with the car dampen what happened up at Indy. That was very special...All in all, I'm very satisfied, and I gave it my all. I trained hard, and I had a lot of people help me out."

Twelve laps after his motor expired, Busch's teammate, Danica Patrick, experienced engine failure as well. Patrick had finished a career-best seventh in Sprint Cup two weeks ago at Kansas. She then qualified a season-best fourth at Charlotte.

"It's unfortunate for the team," said Patrick, who was out of the race after 281 laps and went on to finish 39th. "It would have been great to keep the run going that we had. But I think we still showed some good things this weekend. We're not going to forget about where we've been lately, running better."