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Jimmie Johnson helped add another chapter to the Hendrick Motorsports history books by winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500 Saturday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, bringing the organization its historic 200th win. Johnson, driving the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, started second and was never outside the top-10, finding his way to victory lane after a green-white-checkered finish. He led six times for 134 laps around the 1.366-mile oval, where he now has three Sprint Cup wins (May 2012, March and November 2004), seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races.
Johnson spent the early part of the race trying to get his No. 48 Kobalt Tools machine to the top spot after starting second. He spent 50 laps trying. When leader Greg Biffle came in to pit on lap 49, Johnson led the following lap, his first of the night. But Biffle maintained the lead after pit stops cycled through. Johnson spent the ensuing laps trying to pass Biffle, finally getting by him on lap 102. He held the top spot until pit stops on lap 172.
Johnson came out of the pits first but Kyle Busch, who restarted next to Johnson, was able to get by him. Busch didn’t hold the lead for long as Johnson resumed the top spot nine laps later. A caution for the No. 24 car sent everyone down pit road a few laps later. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for four tires. Most cars took two while Denny Hamlin stayed out, forcing Johnson to restart 10th. He worked his way past a few cars when green flag stops on lap 279 brought the field down for fresh tires and fuel. After the stops cycled through, Johnson was up to fourth.
With 69 laps to go, another caution was displayed, bringing Johnson and the field in for another quick stop. Knaus called for two tires and Johnson was able to maintain his third-place spot. On the restart with 64 to go, Johnson got by Kyle Busch. He set his sights on the leader Martin Truex Jr. but not before another caution a few laps later would bring pit strategy into play. Truex pitted along with several cars behind the leaders. Fuel was a concern but Knaus radioed to Johnson to save whenever he could. When the field went back to green, Busch once again challenged Johnson for the lead and Johnson lost it on the ensuing lap. He regained it on lap 325.
Johnson fought to hold onto the lead for the remainder of the race. A caution with five laps to go set up a green-white-checkered finish with Tony Stewart on the outside of Johnson. But five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson was able to pull away from Stewart to take the checkered flag, bringing Hendrick Motorsports its historic and exciting 200th win and Johnson’s 56th career win.
"It really was a lot drama,” said Johnson, who broke a tie with Rusty Wallace for eighth on NASCAR’s all-time wins list. “In a fuel mileage race, when you see that No. 14, you always second-guess yourself because he's so good at it. I was really concerned. I was just pacing myself in the mirror on what he was doing. Hoped that I had saved enough. I felt like I had saved enough. I felt like I did a good job and certainly did. But there were a lot of hungry drivers out there, including Tony and Kyle (Busch); a lot of guys wanted to win this race. It's very special to me; this race is so special, so great. Darlington is an awesome racetrack."
Johnson put the race in perspective, including how special it was to win for team owner Rick Hendrick.
“You have got to love that man (Rick Hendrick),” Johnson said. “He just said, ‘200 is great, but let's go get 250.’ So that tells you where his head is. I love it. Oh, man, what a day. Very fast racecar. I want to thank Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for an awesome racecar. The Kobalt Tools Chevy was bad fast. We had a little pit thing that went awry earlier in the race, but we still worked our way back up there. Had a great racecar and won the race.”
Hamlin finished .781 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Stewart, Busch and Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 368-lap race, which was extended one lap by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 11 of 36 complete, Earnhardt leads the Hendrick Motorsports contingent in the championship point standings. He is third with 397 points, 14 behind series leader Biffle. Johnson is next in fifth with 372 points, 39 out of first, followed by Kahne in 16th with 283 points, 128 out of first . Jeff Gordon is 24th with 241 points, 170 out.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday, May 19 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The non-point-paying event begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by SPEED beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m. SPEED’s “RaceDay” will begin at 4 p.m.
Get your race win gear and 200th win gear in the Team 48 store at http://bit.ly/J8m9Hm.