NASCAR Charlotte Notebook: Jimmie Johnson Finds Speed At Charlotte Sprint Cup Practice

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – After last Saturday’s lackluster performance in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, Jimmie Johnson returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday still searching for speed.

Apparently he found it.

In opening practice for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX), Johnson was second on the speed chart to Carl Edwards at the 1.5-mile track, posting a lap at 191.673 mph.

“Unfortunately, the showing we had in the All-Star race was less than stellar,” Johnson said. “The confidence we would normally walk in with has been diluted with lack of speed that we had then. Brought back a different car and certainly trying to do things differently with the set-up of the race car. I think the 600-mile race has always been good for us.

“(Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and I seem to fix our race car as the night goes on, be aggressive with adjustments, chase the racetrack well, and I do a nice job searching for a line. The distance of the race doesn’t bother me. I think we’ll have a strong night, but we have a few things to sort out today and even into Saturday’s practice sessions, based on what we learned and what we saw during the all-star race.”

There’s only one problem with practicing in the sunlight, which the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers did on Thursday. The Coca-Cola 600 concludes in the dead of night, and track conditions invariably are quite different.

Johnson found that out the hard way during the All-Star Race.

“The car had decent speed in practice in the sun,” the six-time series champion said of his effort last weekend. “We got into the night and just couldn’t get the car to turn. … All this day practice does not help build confidence in a night race.

“We thought we were good in the day last weekend, went to night and didn’t have what we needed. This track is tricky. It’s tough to get it right. Luckily, it’s a long race, and if need be, in the race we will make big changes.”

More than seven months ago, Joey Logano took the checkered in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

That was the last time a driver other than Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.

Harvick won at Charlotte on Oct. 11 of last year. Johnson followed with a victory at Texas on Nov. 2, and Harvick locked up his first series championship when he triumphed at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

A week after Johnson won the first open-motor race of the 2015 season at Atlanta, Harvick took the checkers at Las Vegas. Johnson followed with wins at Texas in April and Kansas on May 8.

Do the math. That’s seven straight races on 1.5-miles won by either Harvick or Johnson.

True, Denny Hamlin won last Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, holding off Harvick over the final 10 laps, but that event didn’t count in the standings. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 does, and given the recent results, there’s no reason not to consider Harvick and Johnson the co-favorites.

“I hope that we’re on the winning side of it,” Harvick said on Thursday. “I think, as you look at our strengths as the No. 4 team and how we ran last week and the way (teammate) Kurt (Busch) ran last week, I think from a Stewart-Haas standpoint, we feel really good about coming into the week and where we are with things. I feel like hopefully we’ve made ourselves better than what we were last week.

“You just never know, obviously. As you look at the results, the 1.5-mile tracks have been really good for us. This track in general, for the No. 4 team in general, has been good since really all last year. … This is an important race as far as ones that you circle on the calendar. The Coke 600 is definitely one of those you want to win. I think (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and the team guys want to win it, too. You just never know what’s going to happen, but you expect to be competitive and hopefully run up front.”

Jeff Gordon will join FOX NASCAR full time in 2016 as an analyst for FOX’s 16th year of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage, the network announced on Thursday.

Gordon will join play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and analyst Darrell Waltrip in the booth for the network’s race broadcasts. Chris Myers will continue to host FOX Sports’ coverage alongside analysts Larry McReynolds (who leaves the booth for this role) and Michael Waltrip.

“NASCAR has provided me so many incredible memories, experiences and opportunities throughout my 23 years as a driver, and I can’t wait to start a new chapter in racing with this new relationship with FOX and to be in the booth with Mike and Darrell,” said Gordon, who has agreed to a multi-year contract that begins with in-race reporting from the No. 24 during selected races this year.

“I feel so lucky to be a part of a sport that I’m very passionate about, and now I get the opportunity to share that passion to millions of race fans from a whole new perspective.”

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