Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, notched up his first win of the 2014 season in the longest race of the series on Sunday. Starting from the pole position in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson led 164 laps of the 400 lap race, holding the lead for the final nine laps of the race, crossing the finish-line 1.273 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth took third place, followed by Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray in fourth and fifth positions.
Despite back pain that saw him skip Saturday’s final practice, Jeff Gordon finished in seventh place, maintaining his position in the lead with 432 points – no easy feat considering the length of the race. With 421 points, Matt Kenseth is second in the standings, followed by Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, both with 408 points.
Among fans, there are both critics and proponents of the length of the Coca-Cola 600, but most drivers seem to agree that it is a good thing that it is the only event of its kind. It’s very likely that this one-of-a-kind status adds to the attraction of a race that starts in the bright light of the sun, and ends under lights after sunset. The race is generally just over four hours long, during which time the track undergoes a number of changes as the blistering daytime temperatures drop dramatically after sunset, presenting drivers with challenges that require constant and consistent concentration.
Kurt Busch‘s bid to compete in the Indianapolis 500 (where he finished in sixth place)and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day ended on a disappointing note as his car’s engine blew with 129 laps to go at Charlotte. Nonetheless, Busch noted that his experience of driving a stock car right after driving an Indy car was something he would never forget.
As the ninth 2014 Sprint Cup Series race, the 400-lap Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on the weekend was jam-packed with excitement, with the final laps seeing four drivers battling for first place right up to the finish line. Joey Logano took the checkered flag, with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski following in second, third and fourth place respectively. Having started in 17th position, Logano led for 46 laps during the race, and was in the position to take advantage of a caution that bunched up the field by passing and moving into first place. In a post-race interview Logano made reference to the new Sprint Cup emphasis on winning, saying “The heck with it! If we crash, we crash! We’re going for wins!”
The Saturday night race started with a first-turn crash, where Clint Bowyer rear-ended Kyle Larson sending him into the wall, and included at least five cars experiencing flash fires thought to have been caused by the new Goodyear rubber compound. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the safety of Goodyear’s new product is in question. As a NASCAR sponsor since 1954, Goodyear has been the sole tire supplier for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide, and NASCAR Camping World Truck series since 1997. Acknowledging the problem, Goodyear Racing executive Stu Grant noted that the company would have to work on a solution.
After the race, four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying: “That was one of the wildest races with ten to go I’ve ever seen.” Gordon led 173 laps in the race and finished in second place. Kyle Bush moved from sixteenth place to third in the last eight laps of the race, after failing to lead any laps in the race. Brad Keselowski started in second place, led 114 laps and finished in fourth place.