With less than a hundred laps left in the Coca Cola 600 on Saturday night, Jimmie Johnson moved to pass Martin Truex Jr., who had led nearly every lap to that point.
Johnson moved low and high and back again. And then, for a fleeting moment, he succeeded.
But it was only for a fleeting moment.
Truex Jr. regained the lead almost as soon as Johnson overtook him, and then proceeded to win the race in dominating fashion. Johnson, meanwhile, slipped back to third place behind surging Kevin Harvick.
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“It kinda felt like he was playing with us he was so fast,” Johnson said. “I would flat foot (Turns) 1 and 2 and have a nose on him, and he would drive right by me into Turn 3.”
Those places would hold firm, as Johnson finished third at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he got the most recent of his four Coca-Cola 600 victories in 2014.
Johnson, who led three laps, ultimately finished Saturday’s iteration 4.591 seconds behind Truex Jr. and just over two seconds behind the second place Harvick. In 30 career races at the track, Johnson has finished in the top-10 18 times.
For the entirety of Saturday’s race, Johnson remained in contention. Although he started in seventh, he quickly made his way to the front. At both the 100- and 200-lap marks, he was locked into second place.
He continued to push Truex Jr., closing at one point to within four-tenths of a second of first place. But in the end, his No. 48 Chevy couldn’t quite catch the winning No. 78 car.
“This is the best car I’ve had in Charlotte for a long, long time,” Johnson said. “It just shows you how good that 78 was.
“I thought we had a chance at him a few times. A couple times in the long run we’d get close, a couple times on restarts we’d get close.”
But on Saturday, close turned out to be anything but.
When the race ended, Johnson pulled off the track and climbed out of his car. While he pulled on a blue and white Hendrick racing ballcap to answer questions from the media, Truex Jr. was busy spinning in the grass behind him.
Johnson looked back, but continued on with his interviews. That was, until Truex Jr. finally finished celebrating and drove by Johnson in the garage. The third-place finisher then walked away from the cameras and microphones awaiting him, and went to go see the winner.
There wasn’t much time, so a congratulatory high five had to suffice for the time being. Then Johnson came back to reporters, a wide smile on his face.
“I had to do that,” he said. “He was too damn fast not to.”
Brendan Marks: 704-987-5337, @brendanrmarks