Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Johnson's legacy keeps growing

Victory in today's Coca-Cola 600 would pad resum©

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CONCORD, N.C. -- Jimmie Johnson is focused on chasing victory at the Coca-Cola 600. He says he's not thinking about his championship legacy.

A win tonight would be Johnson's fourth in NASCAR's longest race, trailing only Darrell Waltrip's five spring victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson could also strengthen his series points lead with his third win this season as he chases his sixth Sprint Cup title. And a win would be a record seventh at Charlotte.

It's a resum© already worthy of NASCAR's Hall of Fame-- perhaps even in the running for NASCAR's greatest driver -- but that is not something the 37-year-old Johnson is ready to think about.

"I just don't pay attention to it all," Johnson said. "It's very difficult to think about where I fit in while I'm still racing. I think of drivers' careers ending mid 40s. I still have 10 years or so to even think about that."

He's got plenty of others thinking about it as Johnson's milestones pile up. He captured his fourth Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte last week, a record.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, called Johnson's career phenomenal.

Johnson had won several off-road racing titles when Gordon backed him to team owner Rick Hendrick. Johnson drove his first Sprint Cup race for the team in 2001 and joined the series full time the next season.

Combine Johnson's talent with Hendrick's resources and the skill of crew chief Chad Knaus and "the rest is really history in what his career has been and the numbers that he has put up I think speak for themselves," Gordon said.

Johnson's numbers at Charlotte speak very loudly, too. He won three straight Coca-Cola 600s from 2003 through 2005, a stretch that also included victories in the fall races in 2004 and 2005. Johnson won here in October 2009, tying Waltrip and Bobby Allison for the all-time mark of six Charlotte victories.

"How do I describe his career? Do we have that much time?" said Matt Kesenth, who leads the series with three victories this season.

Johnson believes his success in the non-points all-star race gives him confidence for today. His winning All-Star car is still in NASCAR's technical section and the team couldn't get it back in time to run in the 600.

"We have a lot to work from, but it's still a new weekend," Johnson said. "(The) race is much different than before. We feel like we have a good direction and we'll see where things stack up at the end of the night on Sunday."

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France gave an update on the sport's Gen-6 car, which was put in use this year and he says has brought tighter, closer racing to the tracks.

"That's the hallmark of NASCAR," France said. "We boldly say that. We don't talk about that's sort of part of it, that's the steak on the plate for us."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2013 B16

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