Published November 20, 2014
After winning the May 12 race at Darlington and then last Saturday's all-star event, five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson enters this weekends's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a whole lot of momentum.
If Johnson wins Sunday's 600-miler -- NASCAR's longest race of the season -- he will become the first driver to win both Cup events at Charlotte during the month of May twice in his career. Johnson won the Charlotte double in 2003.
Other drivers who have won the Coca-Cola 600 and the all-star race at Charlotte in the same season include: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (1991), Dale Earnhardt (1993), Jeff Gordon (1997), Kasey Kahne (2008) and Kurt Busch (2010).
Having won Darlington and the all-star race, as well as last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte, Johnson's team has been on a roll.
"It definitely gives us confidence," Johnson said. "Even though we won the race, I saw a lot of strong cars [Saturday night]. I think track position at the end of the 600 is going to be key. Two or three pit stops from the end, being in the right position, having the right strategy, if it's fuel, two tires, four, none, whatever it might be, that's going to be key."
Johnson had been the most dominant driver at Charlotte, finishing no worse than third there from May 2003 to October 2006. He is the only driver who has won three consecutive Coca-Cola 600s (2003-05). In fact, he recorded a season sweep at Charlotte during the '04 and '05 seasons.
However, Johnson has struggled on this 1.5-mile racetrack in the previous two years. He has failed to finish the last two races there, placing 28th one year ago and 34th last October. Johnson also finished 37th in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600.
"With the old track and the surface and the bumps, there was just a certain way to drive the track, especially in [turns] three and four, a line that I somehow developed and found that other guys wouldn't run or couldn't get their cars to run that type of line," he said. "That doesn't exist today. So I don't feel like it's exactly like years past.
"What we've had over the last two, three months in our cars, the grip that we've created with the car, my car drove [last Saturday night] clearly better than I've had here in a long time."
Johnson crashed hard into the outside wall in the 500-mile race at Charlotte seven months ago.
In last year's 600-mile race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was less than a half-mile away from ending his lengthy winless streak in NASCAR's top series. Earnhardt Jr. led the way on the final lap but ran out of fuel on the last turn, allowing Kevin Harvick to drive past him and steal the win.
Currently third in the point standings, Earnhardt Jr. had an impressive performance in the all-star race. He led all 40 laps to win the Sprint Showdown and advance into the main event.
Earnhardt Jr. led the way after the fourth 20-lap segment was completed in the all-star race. He finished fifth in the 10-lap shootout to the finish.
"I think we showed what we are capable of doing here next weekend," Earnhardt Jr. said after the all-star race. "We are probably going to bring the same car. We have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster, especially for qualifying that I hope will work out."
Qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (ET).
Danica Patrick's Sprint Cup schedule continues this weekend at Charlotte. Patrick started 38th and finished 31st at Darlington. She made her series debut in the February 27 Daytona 500, placing 38th.
This will be the first time in seven years Patrick has not raced in the Indianapolis 500.
"I think once I see footage on television and watch the cars going around, I'm going to be thinking of those familiar feelings that I'm used to over the seven years," she said.
Patrick is expected to become just the second female to compete in the Coca- Cola 600. Janet Guthrie, in her first Cup start, finished 15th in this event in 1976.
Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for this race.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, May 27. Race: Coca-Cola 600. Site: Charlotte Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 6 p.m.(ET). Laps: 400. Miles: 600. 2011 Winner: Kevin Harvick. Television: FOX. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.