Johnson elated after hard-fought win

Updated: June 5, 2005, 6:52 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to

Jimmie Johnson took the Coke and a smile Sunday night, winning his third straight Coca-Cola 600 with a late-race pass on Bobby Labonte – just over 10 laps after narrowly missing Joe Nemechek's spinning car.

Johnson won his fourth-career race at Lowe's, the same brand which adorns the hood of his car, but celebrated like it was his first.

"I can't believe we're here right now," Johnson said.

With 14 laps to go, it looked like Joe Nemechek's race to lose. And it was. The driver of the No. 01 Chevy spun out ever so close to winning the longest race on the circuit – but the reason this race is so special is because it's 600 miles, so leading after 579 miles doesn't cut it.

But while Nemechek fell short, Johnson came through, once more, at the track he seems to have a handle on better than any other in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Johnson, who has come under a little fire this year for what some of his detractors call sloppy and reckless driving, gave the haters no fodder on Sunday.

After missing Nemechek's wreck, Johnson closed the gap on leader Bobby Labonte and, with his No. 48 Chevy dialed in to navigate the corners, cleared Labonte cleanly and drove off with the victory.

"I knew if I could get to Bobby's quarterpanel … I would have the momentum back to the start-finish line," Johnson said. "I went into Turn 3 a little mad and determined and made it stick around the outside."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to He can be reached at