Johnson picks up win at Charlotte
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Stuck in the longest losing streak of his career, Jimmie Johnson had a chance for a critical win that could salvage this ho-hum season for Hendrick Motorsports.
Hardly a championship contender for most of this season, Johnson grabbed a victory at sun-soaked Charlotte Motor Speedway when nearly half the title contenders had horrible days.
The win Sunday was his third of the season, but snapped a 24-race losing streak dating to March. Johnson is the only Hendrick driver to visit victory lane this season, and this win earned him an automatic berth into the third round of the playoffs.
It's the first time Johnson has made it out of the second round since the elimination format was introduced in 2014. He was knocked out at Talladega in the second round of the inaugural season, and was bounced in the first round last year.
Suddenly, the six-time NASCAR champion is a realistic contender for that elusive record-tying seventh title.
"We can't sit back and cele- brate too much on this," Johnson said. "We've got to buckle down and get to work tomorrow and keep advancing our race cars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom."
The race was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but Hurricane Matthew washed out nearly the entire weekend and set up an 800-mile doubleheader of the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series on Sunday. When the racing finally began on a beautiful North Carolina afternoon, it immediately shaped up as a Hendrick kind of day.
Johnson and Chase Elliott dominated the race, running 1-2 for a long stretch, and a Hendrick victory all but guaranteed based on the speed the Chevrolets showed. Elliott, though, was one of five Chase drivers to finish 30th or worse, and it was Johnson who had to carry the flag. Fitting, though. The win came on the 15th anniversary of Johnson's debut in Cup for Hendrick, which was at Charlotte, and was his eighth career win at the track.
"Nobody ever gave up, and you know, we know what a champion Jimmie is," team owner Rick Hendrick said.
Jimmie Johnson celebrated a win at Charlotte on Oct. 9.