Jimmie Johnson proved that clean air and old tires beats dirty air and new tires during the Bojangles’ Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway on Saturday night.
In securing his 56th victory, and third at The Lady in Black, Johnson also presented his team owner Rick Hendrick with his 200th career NASCAR Sprint Cup win.
Johnson has ended a 16-race winless streak and broken a tie with Rusty Wallace for eighth on the all-time winners list.
When interviewed upon the end of the race Johnson was all smiles after talking to team owner Hendrick. He began, “You’ve got to love that man. He said, ‘Two hundred is great, but let’s go get 250.’ So that tells you where his head is. I love it. Oh, man, what a day!”
Piloting his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet strategically to conserve fuel during several caution periods while leading the race and his opponents pitted for more fuel and fresh tires, Johnson seemed relaxed and almost confident that his method would carry him directly to Victory Lane when conventional wisdom told otherwise.
But the decision made by Chad Knaus to stay out front, not pit for the final 69 laps, and conserve fuel without giving up their lead was brilliant.
Hendrick has this to say about the last moments of the race, “I had to get away. They said that we were going to make it [on fuel], but I don’t believe them, you know? Everything has happened backward for us. We’ve run so good this year and then had such bad luck … I’m kind of numb, but I’m glad it’s over. I think we’re going to win a few more now.”
Denny Hamlin, who was near the front all night, came home second. Tony Stewart, who struggled with a clutch problem but was still vying for the win on the last laps, earned third. At the end it was a temporary loss of fuel pressure that robbed Stewart of third. Kyle Busch was fourth and Martin Truex Jr. finished fifth.
Matt Kenseth finished sixth, his teammate Carl Edwards seventh, and Johnson’s teammate Kasey Kahne was eighth. Aussie Marcos Ambrose cracked the Top 10 in ninth and Joey Logano, winner of the Nationwide race the night before, grabbed tenth.
By a slim two-point margin, Greg Biffle, who finished twelfth in Saturday night’s race, still leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup points. Matt Kenseth is breathing down his teammate’s neck in second, a position he held last week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still occupying third even after a disappointing 17th place finish at Darlington. And Denny Hamlin is still in fourth. Jimmie Johnson ascended three places to sit in fifth this week.
Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Stewart held on to sixth and seventh place respectively. Kevin Harvick, who finished 16th , fell three spots to land in eighth. Kyle Busch stayed firmly in ninth while Carl Edwards’ appearance at seventh in the race was enough to put him in the tenth position in points.
The Track Too Tough to Tame was controlled by Johnson who led a race-high 134 laps. But many others earned their Darlington Stripes including Kurt Busch.
The elder Busch hit the wall on Lap 361 creating a string of events that would collect Ryan Newman. Newman was most unhappy with the 2004 Cup champion and drove over to tell him. This prompted several team members on both sides to try and express themselves physically, but NASCAR officials were able to talk sense into the heated crew members.
Points racing takes a hiatus next weekend so the NASCAR drivers can converge on Charlotte, North Carolina for the All Star Week activities that will culminate next Saturday night, May 19th in the running of the 28th annual All Star Race.
Coverage begins on Saturday May 19th at 7pm on Speed. First up is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Showdown followed immediately by the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Race. Don’t miss a moment!
After the races I invite you to please return here for my race recap.
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