Jimmie Johnson started Sunday as one of the drivers facing scrutiny for a winless NASCAR Sprint Cup season after 11 races.
He will wake up Monday morning with no such worries.
Johnson overtook Matt Kenseth with eight laps to go in the Coca-Cola 600, and then held off Kevin Harvick for the victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kenseth finished third.
Johnson started the day on the pole and finished in front. Johnson now has a record seven victories, 13 top-five finishes, 17 top 10s and four poles at this track. He's now won three of those races from the pole. No other driver had won from the pole here since 1998 until Johnson did it again on Sunday.
“There are more people fretting about things than myself,” he said. “I mean, what, 12 races? Give me a break.”
Exactly. Anybody who didn't think Mr. Six-Time Champion was going to get into the Chase for the Cup playoffs was either delusional or hated the fact that Johnson has been the most dominant driver of the last decade.
Johnson, who is trying to defend his title from 2013, now joins Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon as guys who have essentially punched their ticket into the NASCAR playoffs.
“Yeah, they know we're awake,” Johnson said of the competition. “In winning, it doesn't matter who you are. The No. 4 car [Harvick] has had that momentum this year. They've been able to go out and execute and show a lot of speed and win. Hopefully [we're] heading that way and we can get those other people thinking about us.”
Although Johnson entered the race seventh in points, there was increasing pressure from outside forces because of his winless streak. The revamped Chase format places a huge premium on winning races in order to advance to the 10-race playoff schedule.
“It's great to win, but believe me -- and I promise you -- all the hype and all the concern and worry, that was elsewhere,” Johnson said. “That wasn't in my head; there are plenty of voices in my head, I'm not going to lie! We've had great races and we've had opportunities there in front us and had stuff taken away. And we've had bad races; I have to be honest about that too.”
Johnson's victory capped a long day with historic implications. Kurt Busch became only the fourth driver in racing history to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
Busch pushed through the physical demands, but his NASCAR horsepower wasn't as strong. His engine blew several cylinders on Lap 273 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, preventing him from completing the daunting daily double: the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon and then driving in the longest race of the NASCAR season at night.
“It's like the car just swallowed three cylinders all at once,” Busch said of his engine failure. “Those things happen in motor sports. It was a good battle, though. I was hoping to do 1,100 miles today. I can't let what happened here dampen the mood of what happened in Indianapolis.”
Busch did just fine for a guy driving in his first IndyCar race, finishing sixth.
Busch tied his current NASCAR team owner, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon with the highest finish in the Indianapolis 500 for a driver attempting to complete both races on the same day.
Busch arrived via helicopter -- accompanied by his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and her son -- at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 4:53 p.m. local time but not make it to the drivers meeting, forcing him to start at the rear of the field.
He did manage to get in a 20-minute catnap and also replenished his fluids with 1 1/2 bags of a saline solution.
“Overall, I can stand here with a smile knowing that I gave it my all for six months trying to get to this point,” Busch said.