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It's Short and Sweet for Johnson

He wins Coca-Cola 600 after NASCAR officials call the race because of rain with only 276 of 400 laps completed.

May 26, 2003|George Diaz | Orlando Sentinel

CONCORD, N.C. — A heavy downpour turned the Coca-Cola 600 into the Coca-Cola 414, allowing Jimmie Johnson to take a short spin into an elite NASCAR winner's circle Sunday night.

Johnson was leading the field under the eighth caution of the night when the rain came down at Lowe's Motor Speedway, forcing NASCAR Winston Cup Series officials to call the race after a 15-minute delay with only 276 of 400 laps (or 414 of 600 miles) completed.

The decision to close the show did not go over well with fans, who booed and jeered, and a number of drivers who never had a chance to chase down Johnson.

"I am dumbfounded," Johnson said. "I expected to be doing doughnuts on the frontstretch to celebrate. But we'll take it this way."

Johnson became only the fifth driver in the 18 years the Winston has been run at the Lowe's 1.5-mile track to win on back-to-back weeks after the all-star race.

It was quite the comeback for Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet had engine problems that precluded him from making a qualifying run on Friday. He took a provisional to start 37th in the field of 43, though he actually had to drop to the rear of the field for the green flag because his team changed engines after the problem in qualifying.

"To start dead last," Johnson said, " ... it's incredible."

Fearing driver fatigue -- both from the drivers in stock cars and the folks trying to get back home on the interstate -- NASCAR officials decided to call it a night.

"If we had no rain the rest of the night, it would take us at least three hours, and that's 12:30 getting started back," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "Enough's enough."

Helton factored in other logistical considerations: It had taken four hours to get the track dry during qualifying Friday after it rained in the morning, and the intermittent showers of the last few days had turned the grounds around the race track into a virtual mosh pit. An estimated seven to eight inches had fallen since Wednesday, causing a traffic jam and rendering about 30% of the parking area useless by Sunday.

Still, it wasn't a very popular decision among the folks at pit road.

"I'm certainly not happy calling the race at 9:30 at night and it's not raining," said Kenseth, who finished second. "I sure wish we would have waited it out a little bit.

"It just quit raining and all the fans were cheering."

Said third-place finisher Bobby LaBonte, using a more cautious choice of words: "It's kind of surprising. I'm not in their shoes, and I don't make those decisions."

Inclement weather certainly has not been NASCAR's friend this season when staging its biggest shows of the year. Rain cut short the opening day party at the Daytona 500 in February, and this time rain played a significant role in what was supposed to be NASCAR's longest race of the year.

"How does it feel to win with a little bit of rain falling?" Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip joked with Johnson after the race. "Are you OK with it?"

Johnson joins an elite group of back-to-back winners: Darrell Waltrip in 1985, Davey Allison in 1991, Dale Earnhardt in 1993 and Jeff Gordon in 1997.

Johnson wasn't the most dominant driver of the night, only the most resilient. Tony Stewart led three times for a total of 68 laps before his car had mechanical issues.

Robby Gordon, who completed only 169 laps and finished 22nd in the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday, was in 17th place when the NASCAR race ended, completing his long day without much success.

*

Tony Pedregon earned his fifth funny-car victory of the season at the NHRA O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan.

Pedregon powered his Ford Mustang to a second run of 4.848 seconds at 320.66 mph to beat Whit Bazemore, whose Dodge Stratus lost traction slightly past mid-track and posted a 5.126 at 252.38.

Larry Dixon earned his fourth victory of the season and the 29th of his career in the top-fuel division by edging Doug Kalitta. Dixon posted a 4.534 at 327.82 mph in his dragster, and Kalitta finished in 4.575 at 324.20.

Greg Anderson claimed his fourth pro-stock victory of the season and eighth of his career by defeating Kurt Johnson.

*

Ricky Carmichael recorded his record 90th combined AMA Motocross/Supercross victory, holding off fellow Honda rider Kevin Windham to win the Chevy Trucks U.S. Motocross Championship at Mount Morris, Pa.

Carmichael was tied for the record of 89 AMA Motocross/Supercross with Jeremy McGrath, who retired recently after a 14-year professional career.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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