Jimmie Johnson roars back to life
CONCORD, N.C. -- Kurt Busch winning the Coca-Cola 600 after finishing sixth in his first Indianapolis 500. Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup race. Jeff Gordon overcoming back pain to win where he had his first Cup victory 20 years ago. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning with his Superman paint scheme.
There were plenty of potentially great storylines for Sunday night's finale of the busiest day in motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson winning was not the most compelling.
But it was the most predictable.
You knew he had a fast car. He started on the pole. You knew he had a history of winning here. His six points victories coming into the night were tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
You also knew he had a point to prove. Skeptics were beginning to wonder if he'd lost his magic after he equaled the longest non-winning streak to start a season at 11.
The only other time that happened was 2003, and Johnson ended it with a victory in the 600. So there was no surprise here. And seriously, you didn't really think Johnson was going to go winless for the first time in his 13 seasons, did you?
Johnson certainly didn't.
"I promise you, all the hype, all the concern and worry, that was elsewhere,'' he said after recording career win No. 67. "It wasn't in my head.''
But Johnson has to be in the head of everyone else in NASCAR's premier series as he chases the record seven titles that Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt had in their illustrious careers.
He's now almost certainly in the Chase, and all the talk about how he can't quite adjust to the tighter conditions of the new rules package will end.
"Yeah, they know we're awake,'' Johnson said.
It's not cocky, by the way, when you can back it up.
It doesn't make for the best storyline, either. But if this victory is what propels the No. 48 team to that seventh title, then there will be no bigger storyline whether you're a Johnson fan or not.
"The No. 4 car has had that momentum this year,'' Johnson said of two-time winner Kevin Harvick, who finished 1.27 seconds back in second. "They've been able to go out and execute and show a lot of speed and win.
"Hopefully, this 48 is heading that way and we can get those other people thinking about us."
To be fair, Johnson was a bit lucky even though he led a race-high 164 laps. Harvick had the fastest car most of the night, leading 100 laps. But a mistake on pit road -- a loose wheel -- put him back in the field and forced him to play catch-up at the end.
"We needed 700 miles to get where we needed to be,'' Harvick said.
Six hundred and 10 may have been enough the way he was closing on Johnson. Or just a clean pit stop when the race was on the line.
"I look at it as we let him slip one in front of us by shooting ourselves in the foot,'' Harvick said.
At least he didn't use the "golden horseshoe where the sun doesn't shine" line as he did in 2010 after Johnson beat him at Auto Club Speedway in California.
It's been obvious for quite some time that Johnson is more good than lucky.
As for all the other storylines that didn't materialize:
• Busch was ready to complete 1,100 miles on Sunday, but his Cup car wasn't. The engine blew 271 laps into the 400-mile race, leaving him a disappointing 40th after working his way from the back to the top 10.
"I can't let what happened here dampen what happened at Indy,'' Busch said. "Today is a memory I will have forever.''
• Patrick started fourth and got as high as second before losing the handling on her car. Then there was a wreck that knocked her back even further, and then there was a blown engine that left her one spot ahead of Busch in 39th.
• Gordon had the lead on the final restart with 17 laps remaining thanks to a two-tire stop. Third-place finisher Matt Kenseth quickly went around him and Johnson blew past Kenseth with eight laps remaining. Gordon, still struggling with the back pain, finished seventh.
• Earnhardt led 13 laps with his superhero paint scheme, but developed a late vibration -- his brakes, according to team owner Rick Hendrick -- and finished two laps back in 19th.
The real superhero was driving the 48. If you recall, Johnson was dubbed "Superman'' by Mark Martin in 2009 en route to his fourth straight title.
So this may have not been the most compelling story compared to the others.
But it certainly was the most predictable.
And Johnson certainly enjoyed the moment.
"I got a question now,'' he said as the postrace press conference moderator opened the floor for questions. "What the hell are y'all going to write about now [that we've won a race]?''