CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Apparently, Jimmie Johnson isn't done in NASCAR after all.
The six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion had spent much of year listening to outsiders wonder when or if he would return to Victory Lane. Those questions ended with Johnson's dominating win at the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night. That left just one query from Johnson himself: "What the hell are you going to write about?"
Maybe about how Johnson's title defense is truly underway as he goes for a record-tying seventh driver crown. This win all but locks him into NASCAR's expanded 16-team playoffs and Johnson expects it will energize his No. 48 team in the season's second half.
"We really want to heat up and win races later in the season," he said when asked if he had panicked about a drought that stretched since winning last November at Texas Motor Speedway.
"More than anything I got tired of answering the question," Johnson said. "We hold ourselves to a high standard."
There's a great chance Johnson could get on a big time roll. The Sprint Cup series this week heads to Dover, where Johnson has won a record eight times. Then comes Pocono, where he has three wins.
Johnson has politely dealt with inquiries about not winning and showed that the best way to combat that was finishing out front. He did that Thursday in qualifying, taking his first pole of the season, then followed that up with the stellar performance Sunday night.
Johnson led the most laps — 165 of 400 — and was in the lead 10 separate times. The last came when Johnson moved past Kenseth in turn four nine laps from the end. No one came close to running him down after that, not even Kevin Harvick, who led 100 laps and has been the toast of NASCAR all year long with the speed the Stewart-Haas team has produced.
Harvick was second, Kenseth third and Carl Edwards fourth.
Johnson made sure the No. 48 won't be overlooked this year.
"You never know when you are going to peak. We will hopefully peak at the right time," he said.
Five other things to take away from the Coca-Cola 600:
GORDON IS TOUGH: Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon again showed his toughness and determination by lasting all 600 miles in the car despite back spasms that saw him cut short practice and leave the track early Saturday. Gordon was among the top 10 all night long and held the lead with 16 laps left before falling back.
Gordon said his back bothered him at times during the long, long ride, but he was able to persevere. "It tells me a lot about what kind of threshold I have and I just want to show this team the kind of commitment I have to them because of what they have shown me," he said.