Johnson, who won $1 million last week when he won The Winston, was leading when heavy rain soaked the track. The shower was brief, but NASCAR figured it would take at least three hours to dry the track and more rain was expected.
So the sanctioning body shortened the longest race of the year — stopping it after 414 of the 600 miles — a decision Johnson and his crew initially didn’t believe as word trickled down pit road.
But as the crowd began to boo the decision, the Hendrick Motorsports team knew it was official and began a hesitant celebration.
“I am dumbfounded,” Johnson said. “I expected to be doing doughnuts on the frontstretch to celebrate. But we’ll take it this way.”
Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth finished second, Bobby Labonte was third, followed by Jimmy Spencer, polesitter Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip and Sterling Marlin. Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Ward Burton rounded out the Top 10.
Robby Gordon, who finished 22nd earlier Sunday in the Indianapolis 500, was 17th and disappointed he didn’t get a chance to continue.
“As far as going the distance, 17th place is pretty weak and we had a better car than that,” he said. “We could have had a top 10 car and I could have continued racing.”
But NASCAR President Mike Helton said the threat of more rain would have dragged the race on long into the night — if it even got restarted.
“We’ll close the books on this one and head on to Dover,” Helton said. “Hopefully everybody understands. I know Jimmie does.”
But the rest of the field didn’t understand, especially Kenseth, who led three times for a race-high 75 laps.
“I’m certainly not happy about ending the race at 9:30 at night — the biggest race of the year, especially when it’s not even raining,” Kenseth said. “Hopefully it will start raining pretty hard soon.”
Actually, it’s not the biggest race of the year. That’s the season-opening Daytona 500 — which was also called by rain earlier this year.
But by calling the race, NASCAR ended Kenseth’s bid to give Roush Racing a fifth consecutive victory in the Coca-Cola 600. He and teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Burton have combined to win the past four events.
But Johnson is the new champion, becoming the fifth driver in NASCAR history to sweep the May events at what’s considered the home track for his team because Lowe’s sponsors his No. 48 Chevrolet