Johnson wins Coca-Cola 600

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 31, 2004

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. - This time, Jimmie Johnson overcame the pit road miscue.

The leader virtually all night, Johnson dropped to fifth during a caution but roared back to the lead with 16 laps left Sunday night to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the second straight season.

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A red flag with six laps left forced Johnson to sweat it out a bit, but when the green fell, he sped away from the field again at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He won under caution after Bobby Labonte's wreck on the final lap, with Michael Waltrip second.

Matt Kenseth ended up third, followed by Jamie McMurray and Elliott Sadler.

Johnson led an incredible 334 laps - which would be the entire distance in a 500-mile race - and came up one short of the record set in 1967 by winner Jim Paschal.

As a rookie in 2002, Johnson gave away a chance to win this race when he slid through his pits on the final pit stop. He didn't make the mistake this time, but a slow effort by his crew allowed Kasey Kahne to beat him out of the pits.

McMurray decided not to come in and held the lead, and Waltrip and Jeremy Mayfield changed only two tires to take second and third.

The move that likely won the race for Johnson came with 25 laps to go, when he still was mired in fifth. As he drove to the outside of Kahne in Turn 3, they came up on the slower car of Robby Gordon.

Johnson got by Kahne, then turned hard left to get under Gordon, a dynamic maneuver so late in the race.

Once he got by that traffic, Johnson wasted little time chasing down McMurray. He had moved into second four laps later, and he stalked McMurray for a bit before moving to the inside on the backstretch.

He zoomed ahead in Turn 3 and survived that late red flag for his second victory of 2004 and the eighth of his 2 1/2-year career.

Robby Gordon failed in his attempt to complete a racing double when the Indianapolis 500 was stopped by rain after only 27 laps earlier in the day. With the start of the NASCAR race approaching, Gordon had to leave Indy and backup driver Jaques Lazier took the wheel.

It's probably just as well. The car dropped out after only 88 laps with a mechanical failure, and Gordon was credited with 29th.

At Lowe's, he finished three laps down in 20th.