Charlotte Motor Speedway was the perfect stop on the schedule for Jimmie Johnson to get out of what so many in the media thought to be a slump for the six-time Sprint Cup champion. Charlotte was the 12th stop on this season’s schedule and it just happened to be the same length as the longest winless streak that Johnson had experienced in his career.
When Charlotte was known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway, it was commonly referred to as the house that Jimmie built because of his tremendous success at the track and that Lowe’s was also his longtime sponsor. Johnson and Lowe’s had combined for six wins at the mile-and-a-half track — that was good enough to be tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip as the track’s all-time winners.
Johnson served noticed on Thursday night during qualifying that he was going to be the driver to beat as he won his first pole of the season and the 33rd of his career. The pole was the fourth of his career at Charlotte in 26 races with two of those pole runs resulting in a trip to victory lane.
Johnson’s win in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 broke the tie with Allison and Waltrip, but more importantly, it secured his spot in this season’s Chase field of 16 drivers that will have the opportunity to compete for the series title over the course of the last 10 races of the season. Jimmie will be chasing history this season in the Chase as he will be attempting to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the all-time series leaders with seven titles each.
Johnson’s win makes him the 10th different winner this season and the pressure that he was feeling of not making a trip to victory lane now will transfer to Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted seven wins in 2013 after a three-win season in 2012, but is still searching for that first win this season. Sunday night he started first on the last restart but could not hold off Johnson who had the dominant car of the night as he led a race-high 164 laps.
Even though Kenseth hasn’t won a race this season, he has quietly put together a very good season as he has shown the kind of consistency that has him sitting in second place in the point standings just 11 points behind the leader Jeff Gordon. His strong showing in the points comes from four top-5 and nine top-10 finishes.
Kenseth joins Brian Vickers in eighth and Ryan Newman in 10th as the only top-10 drivers without a win on the season. The Chase field will be set first with the winning drivers after the 26th race of the season, and if there are not 16 different winners, the remaining spots in the field will be filled by the highest ranking drivers in the point standings.
The drivers will tell you they don’t want to have to wait and see if they can get in the Chase by their points position. Winning a race locks you in and in the process takes away the pressure of having to race your way in as the races go off the board. It is exactly what NASCAR had intended when it revamped the Chase format with the heavy emphasis on winning.
Roush Fenway Racing announced last week at Charlotte that it had signed Trevor Bayne to a multi-year contract to drive the No. 6 Ford Fusion with primary sponsorship from AdvoCare beginning in 2015. Bayne’s Sprint Cup career began in 2011 with a win in the Daytona 500 while driving part time for the Wood Brothers. He has continued to drive a part-time Cup schedule for the Wood Brothers since then while also driving in the Nationwide Series.
The No. 6 team that he steps into next season was made famous by Mark Martin and was the cornerstone team that Roush used to build his multi-car operation in the sport. The signing was the first announcement by Roush Fenway as to what its lineup would be for next season as Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will be free agents after this season. Bayne joins Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the only two drivers under contract for the 2015 season.
Event: FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks
Track: Dover International Speedway (1-mile oval, 240 of banking in the turns)
Date: June 1, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Tony Stewart