CONCORD, N.C. – All Jimmie Johnson needed to snap his 13-race winless streak was a trip to one of his best tracks.
Johnson passed Matt Kenseth with eight laps to go and pulled away to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his first victory of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
It wasn’t as simple as Johnson made it look at times.
Driving a special red, white and blue Lowe’s No. 48 Chevy, Johnson rocketed out to the lead from the pole and led much of the early going.
Runner-up Kevin Harvick, third-place finisher Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski were Johnson’s toughest competition throughout the 400-lap race.
None of them, however, could stop the six-time Sprint Cup champion from recording his 67th career victory.
Not even a late caution – from which Johnson had to rally to the lead from third – slowed the El Cajon, Calif. native. He cleared Jeff Gordon two laps after a lap 384 restart, set his sights on Kenseth and made his move.
Kenseth forced Johnson’s car to the bottom of the backstretch on lap 392, but Johnson dove low and pulled underneath Kenseth for the lead.
He wasn’t challenged again.
Johnson led a race-high 164 laps, and recorded a NASCAR-record seventh points-paying win at Charlotte.
“To be the winningest driver here says a ton,” Johnson said. “This track means so much to the racing community. When you come here and run well, there’s just something about it with it being in the backyard of all the race teams that there’s a lot of pride out of running well here.
“I have that pride, and to have the most wins here takes it to the next level for sure.”
It’s also Johnson’s fourth Coca-Cola 600 victory. Carl Edwards and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray completed the top five.
Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Keselowski rounded out the top 10.
Johnson’s car owner, Rick Hendrick, said the win meant a lot for his Hendrick Motorsports team.
“This is a special place for me,” Hendrick said. “To win at Charlotte is really special and any time we can accomplish something that someone else hasn’t, it’s rewarding to the organization.”
Kenseth, who has two wins at Charlotte, won a series-high seven races last year but he hasn’t posted a victory after 12 races this season. Still, the veteran Joe Gibbs Racing driver isn’t concerned about needing victories to lock in a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth.