CONCORD, N.C. — There was something merciful about the early end to Jimmie Johnson’s wreck-riddled Coca-Cola 600 — the NASCAR crown jewel race that Johnson has won four times before.
There was also something cruel about it.
After all, at NASCAR’s longest race and at one of his favorite racetracks, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t have nearly the on-track time to deem much of anything about Monday productive.
And because of this, Monday was less a reminder of all the greatness Johnson has achieved at Charlotte — and more of a series of unfortunate and unlucky reminders of his team’s present struggles.
“Not enough,” Johnson said. “Not enough, I don’t think. I mean, it’s 50-60 laps. I really didn’t get through a series of proper pit stops and stuff.
“But I certainly learned a lot on my end. I don’t know that I have enough experience to carry it over and tell (my drivers Erik Jones and Noah Gragson) much, though.”
“Not enough” has been a sentiment Johnson has related a few times this year regarding the struggles of Legacy Motor Club this season. Johnson bought ownership stock in the race organization in November and soon thereafter announced a handful of Cup races he’d run in 2023 — the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 being among them.
But the race team hasn’t yet found its groove in 2023: Jones, who drives the 43 car, entered this weekend 25th in the points standings. Gragson, who drives the 42 car, dwelled in P32. (They both struggled with Johnson on Monday: At one point, all three LMC cars were in the garage getting needed repairs while the rest of the series swirled around them — every minute not out on the track pushing them deeper and deeper in a hole.)
Johnson told reporters before the race that he hasn’t yet been able to provide the input he’d like to with Jones and Gragson because he’d never raced in the Next Gen car — and he added that he hoped this long crown jewel race at one of his favorite racetracks could help with that.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, rain washed out practice and qualifying on Saturday. And then two separate instances on Monday foiled any on-track knowledge accumulation.
The first came just at the end of Stage 1, when a spin out damaged his car enough to where it was taken behind the wall and worked on before he re-entered the race 49 laps down. And the second came in Stage 2, when the nose of Gragson’s car spun him into the wall from the rear of the pack — the punctuation mark to a brutal day for Legacy Motor Club.
Johnson spoke on the race-ending wreck after emerging from the infield care center.
“I just didn’t know I was in that three-wide situation,” Johnson said. “There are a bunch of us cars that were wrecked and just trying to limp it home, and unfortunately I was in a situation I wasn’t aware of and got turned around.”
The driver of the 84 car — a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with 83 Cup wins to his name who was tapped to run at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in a few weeks — added that he learned at least some things via mistake about the Next Gen car’s intermediate package.
Johnson’s reign over the sport, after all, predated the Next Gen car, which was unveiled in 2022 — and the only two other racetracks he’s run at this year were Daytona (superspeedway) and COTA (road course) in Austin, Texas.
“I felt like the first 50-60 laps, I came up through the field and was feeling good about things,” Johnson said. “I guess there’s a dead spot passing to the right side of a car that I found out between Turns 1 and 2, when I spun, so there’s just some little nuances of this car that I need to just (figure) out.”
Johnson added resolutely: “Unfortunately I made those mistakes in a race, especially what happened during 1 and 2. But we’ll come back and learn some more.”