We can stop with the needless worrying about Jimmie Johnson's winning stretch in 2014. It's over.
The six-time Sprint Cup Series Champion caught and passed Matt Kenseth in the final stages of Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 and got his first win of the season. Yes, he is now virtually guaranteed to be in the Chase.
But if you were fretting for some inexplicable reason about Johnson not winning in the season's first 11 races, the defending champion certainly was not.
"Absolutely," Johnson said when asked in victory lane if winning was a relief. "It's great to win. But believe me, I promise you, all the hype and all the concern and all the worry, that was elsewhere. That wasn't in my head. There are plenty of voices in my head, I'm not going to lie, but we've had a great race team. We've had opportunities right there in front of us and had stuff taken away from us. And we've had some bad races, I've got to be honest about that too. But tonight we had a great race."
Johnson didn't venture far from the front all night. He started on the pole and led the first 79 laps of the race before he was caught by Kevin Harvick, who eventually finished second. And he grabbed the lead for the final time by clearly having the strongest car on a night that made clean air look like an invincible turbobooster.
Kenseth got the lead with 17 laps to after he powered around Jeff Gordon on the race's final restart. After getting past Gordon, Kenseth set sail in the clean air as the leader while Johnson was trapped in fourth on the inside in traffic. By the time he got past Gordon and into second place, Kenseth had a lead of a second.
It didn't matter. Johnson immediately clawed into Kenseth's lead by tenths of a second each lap and before Kenseth could start thinking about his first win of the season, Johnson was on his bumper and then alongside him. Soon, he was ahead of him, with Kenseth powerless to fight back against a driver who led 165 of the race's 400 laps.
Kenseth wound up third while Carl Edwards was fourth and Jamie McMurray, the winner of last week's Sprint All-Star Race, finished fifth. Before the race's final caution flag, Edwards was in position to swipe a potential win on fuel strategy after inheriting the lead without pitting. But those plans were foiled when Alex Bowman hit the wall.
Kurt Busch, attempting to complete both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, saw his engine expire in the latter race after he had completed just over 400 miles. He finished 40th.
Johnson's win was his seventh points race win at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite being his first since 2009, when he also started on the pole. From 2003-2005, Johnson had five wins in six Charlotte races. He's now sixth in the points standings, 44 points behind Gordon, who maintains the points lead.
Oh, and he's in the Chase too, remember. But also remember that there was never any doubt. This win was on it's way. It simply showed up Sunday night.
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