Winless in 11 races this season and a total of 13 consecutive starts dating back to last year, the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion blew past Matt Kenseth with nine laps remaining to win Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Starting from the pole, Johnson had one of the race’s dominant cars and led a race-high 164 laps en route to his seventh points win at Charlotte and fourth in NASCAR’s longest race.
Johnson, as he has more than once in recent weeks, downplayed the significance of his win in terms of it ending his highly-publicized drought.
"There are more people fretting about things than myself," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. "I mean, what 12 (actually 13) races? Give me a break. Obviously, it’s great to win and we are very happy to win here especially in the backyard of Hendrick Motorsports. (Sponsor) Lowe’s headquarters is just up the road, as well.
"Just stoked for the night. Very good race car. We raced up front all night long and that last restart let us bunch up to those guys on two (tires) and our four (tires) were able to prevail."
Kevin Harvick, one of Johnson’s chief challengers throughout the 400-lap race, finished 1.273 seconds behind Johnson in second but was frustrated to miss out on his third victory of the season.
"We shot ourselves in the foot again," said Harvick, who led five times for a total of 100 laps. "We left two wheels loose and played catch-up the rest of the night. I have to thank everyone on the Budweiser Chevrolet team for putting fast cars on the track, but we have clean pit road up."
Kenseth hung on to take third as Carl Edwards and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray completed the top five.
Jeff Gordon, who skipped Saturday’s final practice because of intense back pain, finished seventh and remained the series leader — now by 11 points — over Kenseth.
Lining up second on the final restart with 17 laps to go, Kenseth powered past Gordon with relative ease and appeared possibly headed for his first win of the season before Johnson reeled him in.
"We got a good restart and got out front," said Kenseth, who led 33 laps in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. "Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough speed to hold off Jimmie and Kevin, and hang on to win. Overall for the weekend, I thought it was a step in the right direction."
As is often the case in a 600-mile race, there was no shortage of strategies and drivers who saw potentially promising evenings take a turn for the worse.
Chief among the disappointed was Kurt Busch, who caught a jet to Charlotte following an impressive sixth-place finish in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Busch, who was forced to start at the rear of the Coke 600 field because of missing the mandatory driver’s meeting, retired with a blown engine with 129 of 400 laps remaining.
Busch, whose Sunday consisted of 906 total miles of racing, finished 40th with a DNF.
"The motor blew," said Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion. "It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once, so it was real slow. It’s kind of a shame. … I thought we were making good gains on the car. It was great to race in traffic and to feel the stock car right after driving an Indy car was a day I’ll never forget. I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen what happened up in Indy today."
Ten laps after Busch’s retirement from the race, Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick — who qualfied a non-restrictor-plate, career-best fourth — headed for the garage with an engine failure of her own.
Patrick, who suffered damage in an earlier collison with Brian Scott when the two drivers slowed to avoid the spinning car of Marcos Ambrose, finished 39th.
"We had a plan to make a big adjustment (early) that I thought would really help under yellow," Patrick said. "We dropped a cylinder or lost power, then we got hit. Unfortunately, we had a lot of bad luck. We weren’t really as fast as we needed to be at the beginning. It’s unfortunate for the whole team.
"It would have been great to keep the run going that we had. I think we still showed some good things this weekend. We’re not going to forget about where we’ve been lately and running better. We’ll be back to get ’em at Dover."
NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., also suffered mechanical trouble — finishing 19th — after spending 13 laps out front.
"We had a lot of real high water pressure and a real bad vibration," Earnhardt said. "The vibration was so bad I was afraid to hold it wide open because it would just get so bad at the end of the straightaway. I thought we was about to break the motor.
"We came in and knocked the pressure out of it and the vibration slowly got better and never completely went away. Something is wrong with the car."