CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson is focused on chasing victory at the Coca-Cola 600. He says he’s not thinking about his championship legacy.
A win Sunday night would be Johnson’s fourth in NASCAR’s longest race, trailing only Darrell Waltrip’s five spring victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson could also strengthen his series points lead with his third win this season as he chases his fifth Sprint Cup title. And a win would be a record seventh at Charlotte.
It’s a resume already worthy of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame — perhaps even in the running for NASCAR’s greatest driver — but that is not something the 37-year-old Johnson is ready to think about.
“I just don’t pay attention to it all,” Johnson said. “It’s very difficult to think about where I fit in while I’m still racing. I think of drivers’ careers ending mid-40s. I still have 10 years or so to even think about that.”
He’s got plenty of others thinking about it as Johnson’s milestones pile up. He captured his fourth Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte last week, a record.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, called Johnson’s career phenomenal.
Johnson had won several off-road racing titles when Gordon backed him to team owner Rick Hendrick. Johnson drove his first Sprint Cup race for the team in 2001 and joined the series full time the next season.
Combine Johnson’s talent with Hendrick’s resources and the skill of crew chief Chad Knaus, and “the rest is really history in what his career has been and the numbers that he has put up I think speak for themselves,” Gordon said.
Expect Johnson to get pressured from many fronts during Sunday’s race.
Sprint Cup super power Joe Gibbs Racing has three cars among the top eight starters, including pole-sitter Denny Hamlin, who led qualifying with a track record of 195.624 mph Thursday night.
Kenseth, who won at Darlington two weeks ago, will start third while Kyle Busch starts eighth. Busch has won 11 times at Charlotte in the Nationwide and Truck series, but never on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
Defending champion Kasey Kahne, Johnson’s teammate, will start near the front in sixth.
Kurt Busch of Furniture Row Racing looked like he had taken his second straight pole after Darlington before Hamlin caught him by about five-hundreths of a second for the top spot.
Kurt Busch led 69 of the first 73 laps at Darlington before fading to 14th. He’ll give it another go Sunday night.
“We know we’ve got some good things going right now,” he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start at No. 11. He was on his way to victory in this race two years ago when he famously ran out of gas on the final lap and got passed by winner Kevin Harvick.
Danica Patrick is running her second Sprint Cup race at Charlotte. She finished 30th in 2012 and hoped to build on that in his first full season in the series. However, her engine was leaking oil during Saturday’s first practice session and her team was going to change it out, moving her to the back of the field for Sunday night.