Jimmie Johnson fans can relax. Their favorite driver finally won his first race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, holding off late runs by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As a result and with his 67th career Sprint Cup win, Johnson is now on-track to make this year’s new and revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, of which he’s the defending and six-time champion.
What a relief to end what had been tied for your worst winless start to a season, right, Jimmie?
“Absolutely, it’s great to win,” Johnson told Fox Sports in victory lane. “But I promise you, all the hype and concern and worry was elsewhere, it wasn’t in my head. There are plenty of voices in my head, I’m not going to lie.
“We’ve had a great race team, we’ve had opportunity in front of us and had stuff taken away from us, and we’ve had some bad races, I have to be honest about that, too.”
Johnson, who led 10 different times in Sunday’s race, moves up to third on the Chase-eligible standings and hopes Sunday is the first of many more wins to come.
“It was just a long race, so many things going on,” said Johnson, who snapped an overall 13-race winless streak that dated back to the latter part of last season. “Hopefully this 48 is heading that way and we get those other people thinking about us.”
Johnson, who started from the pole position, led a race-high 165 laps and ultimately won by 1.2 seconds over Harvick.
It was Johnson’s seventh career win at CMS, a new record for most wins by a driver at the 1.5-mile track.
Runner-up Harvick, who had won two of the last three 600s, led 100 laps — only to fall short.
Harvick called out his pit crew for falling short.
“We had a loose wheel and we got behind and it took us the rest of the night to get back up front,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road and we have to get that cleaned up because we obviously can’t win races even with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road. It’s frustrating.”
Kenseth, who led 33 laps, said he just wasn’t able to hold off Johnson from passing him late in the race and motor on to the checkered flag and victory lane.
“I thought we had a top-five car,” Kenseth said. “We had great strategy and great stops. They (his crew) had me in front of (Johnson) but just couldn’t hold them off. We just need to get a little better. … You’re disappointed when you don’t hold them off and don’t come home with a victory, but we were just too tight to hold them off.”
Johnson led after 100 miles, Harvick led after 200 and 300 miles, McMurray led after 400 miles and Keselowski led after 500 miles.
The Sprint Cup points standings saw marginal change in the top-10.
Gordon remains in first place, Kenseth is still in second (11 points behind Gordon), Kyle Busch remains in third and is now tied with Edwards (both -24), Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell to fifth place (-38), Johnson climbs one spot to sixth (-44), Joey Logano fell to seventh (-54), Brian Vickers (-67) moved up two places to eighth, Brad Keselowski moved up two places into a tie for ninth with Ryan Newman (both -71).