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Jimmie Johnson has dominated at Charlotte, but his inexperience driving a NextGen car has him tempering expectations

Jimmie Johnson retired in 2020, but he's come back for a few races to promote his Legacy Motor Sports brand, including Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.John Raoux/Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson has won eight Cup Series races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, more than any driver in NASCAR history. And yet the seven-time champion said he’s never felt more ill-prepared for a race heading into Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

Johnson retired from full-time stock car racing in 2020 but is participating in a few select marquee Cup races this year for Legacy Motor Club, which he co-owns. He’s also racing on a number of other circuits, including next month’s 24 hours of Le Mans as he works to bring more name recognition to his brand.

That means he's had very limited experience in the NextGen car, which debuted in 2022.


Johnson ran the Daytona 500 and at Circuit of the Americas this year in the No. 84 Chevrolet, but hasn’t competed at a 1.5-mile oval like Charlotte Motor Speedway. And with rain wiping out practice and qualifying Saturday, Johnson will be stepping into the car cold when the race begins Sunday night, leaving him a bit unsettled.

“A couple hours [testing] in Phoenix is the only comparable oval experience I’ve had,” Johnson said. “We had 30 to 40 laps in a simulator and that’s been it. I want to survive the first stage [Sunday] and go from there.”

His expectations are modest for a driver who has won the Coca-Cola 600 four times.

“A top 10 or top 15 would be an awesome finish for us,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s “excited, invigorated, and exhausted” since joining Maurice Gallagher last year as co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the team formerly known as Petty GMS Motorsports.

Seven time series champion Jimmie Johnson has won four Coca-Cola 600s and eight times overall at Charlotte.Matt Kelley/Associated Press

On the track it's been a rough season for the team.

Full-time drivers Erik Jones and Noah Gragson are 25th and 32nd in Cup points, and neither has a top-five finish this season. The best performance from that duo is Jones’ sixth-place finish at Talladega in April.


“Erik continues to show just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s had challenging circumstances this year and he just stays focused and gets the job done. Noah, from afar, I wasn’t sure how seriously he took things. His desire and commitment to his craft is what has impressed me the most.

“We have a massive effort on our hands to figure out many ways to improve. I’m proud of everything going on. I can’t ask for more effort from everyone involved. We just need more consistency.”

Rain postponed Saturday's Xfinity race to Monday and canceled qualifying.David Jensen/Getty

Rain postpones Xfinity race to Monday

Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway until Monday.

Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was canceled, with the field to be set by metrics, according to the rule book. Cup Series points leader William Byron will start on the pole.

The rain repeatedly frustrated attempts to dry the 1.5-mile track. The Xfinity Series race has been rescheduled for Monday at noon, with pole winner Justin Allgaier set to lead the field to green. The race will be broadcast live on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

JR Motorsports, the organization for which Allgaier drives, is winless through 11 races this season. During that same span last year, JRM had four victories and went on to win 15 of the 33 Xfinity Series races.

“It makes things seem like they’re coming together, and that’s what we need,” Allgaier said of his pole-winning effort. “Honestly, this is the best race car I’ve ever had here. The weather conditions are different. There are a lot of things—variables that are playing into that.


Boston Globe Today: Sports | May 26, 2023
Watch today’s full episode of Boston Globe Today Sports from May 26, 2023