The Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte had a lot of buildup. After all, many intriguing storylines were running rampant leading into the race Sunday night.
Would Kurt Busch be able to complete his ambitious racing doubleheader after competing in the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day? Could Jimmy Johnson take advantage of the pole and get his first win of the season? Would Danica Patrick's great starting position work in her favor?
These questions were answered, and after 400 laps and 600 miles of track, Johnson earned his first victory of the season.
Johnson was resilient throughout the race, battling with many other front-running drivers to maintain position. With only eight laps left, he passed Matt Kenseth, moved to the head of the pack and then didn't relinquish the lead. Kenseth ended up in third and Kevin Harvick took second.
Competition was fierce, as 34 lead changes took place during the race. Johnson's win marked the first time a driver won from the pole in Charlotte since he did so himself back in 2004.
It had been a long road since his last win, as NASCAR Stats noted:
Jimmie Johnson picks up his first win of the season and first since last fall at Texas #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) May 26, 2014
Here's a look at the race's final results:
Complete results can be found at NASCAR.com.
Johnson's win also shook up the Sprint Cup standings, as he moved up from seventh place to sixth and other drivers narrowed the gap on Jeff Gordon's overall lead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also moved down one spot, from fourth to fifth. Here's how the standings look with the Coca-Cola 600 in the books:
|Rank||Driver||Points||Behind||Money||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||394||-38||$2,929,528||1||6||7|
Complete standings can be found at NASCAR.com.
The Coca-Cola 600 is one of NASCAR's most grueling races and drivers cover a lot of ground, which Jeff Gluck of USA Today helped put into perspective:
Update: Drivers have now made it to Orlando, Florida if they were driving on highway.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 26, 2014
No driver, of course, logged more track miles Sunday than Busch. He had a masterful performance in the Indianapolis 500 (finishing sixth) before making the trip to Charlotte for his NASCAR nightcap.
David Caraviello of NASCAR.com recognized Busch's impressive achievement:
Kurt Busch sixth in the Indianapolis 500. First time ever in an open-wheel race. What an incredible accomplishment.— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) May 25, 2014
Unfortunately, it didn't end the way Busch wanted, as a blown engine late in the race prevented him from completing the double, according to SportsCenter:
Kurt Busch blows engine late in Coca-Cola 600, fails to complete "the double" (with Indy 500) of 1,100 miles raced in a day.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 26, 2014
Here's a look at Busch's comments following his run:
As for Patrick, her day did not go swimmingly.
After a promising start in fourth position, she quickly fell toward the rear of the pack after encountering some engine issues midway through the race.
The goal soon became to just finish the race, according to a conversation with Patrick and her pit crew, via Fox Sports NASCAR:
Things only went downhill from there.
Later in the race, she slowed down to avoid a collision and was hit from behind soon after, doing a good amount of damage to the rear of her car. Patrick's temper flared during a conversation with her pit crew, as Alan Cavanna of NASCAR.com relayed:
"I didn't expect everyone to be so stupid. I was basically stopped," @DanicaPatrick says, after being hit after slowing down— Alan Cavanna (@CopaCavanna) May 26, 2014
Finally, Patrick's engine could take no more, as it blew later in the race. Fox Sports NASCAR tweeted as it happened:
Here's a look at Patrick's engine failure:
Earnhardt was another unfortunate casualty of engine woes.
He began the race in 10th position and made some great moves to get to the front of the pack. With over half of the race completed, Earnhardt took the lead and looked to be running strong.
That changed quickly, though, as he was forced to pit due to some motor trouble, according to Gluck:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pitting with an engine problem. "It don't sound very good," Letarte says. Third Hendrick engine problem tonight.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 26, 2014
Charlotte continues to give Earnhardt trouble year after year, and although Earnhardt was disappointed after the race, he still had a strong message for his fans on Twitter:
Aight now. That's disappointing. But that also was a fast damn car. Don't sleep on the 88. Everything's gonna be just fine. Wins comin soon.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 26, 2014
With the Coca-Cola 600 now in the rearview, drivers will be quickly turning focus to the FedEx 400 on Sunday, June 1. Tony Stewart enters as the defending champion, while Johnson—the winner in 2012—will focus on winning back-to-back races.
There's plenty of action left this season, and NASCAR's top drivers appear to be in top form. Get ready for a wild ride ahead.