Jimmy Johnson earned the 200th Sprint Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports Saturday night fighting off Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin on a green-white-checker restart to win the 63rd annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
It’s the first win of the season for Johnson who snapped a 16 race winless streak. And The Hendrick team joins Petty Enterprises as the only teams with 200 or more Cup victories. The Petty team has 268.
The victory is Johnson’s third at Darlington, his first since 2004, and his second in the Southern 500. And it’s his 56th career Sprint Cup win.
Hamlin edged out Stewart for second. Kyle Busch finished fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth. Pole sitter and points leader Greg Biffle came home 12th Dale Earnhardt Jr. 17th.
Danica Patrick, in her first Southern 500, finished 31st, six laps down. Jeff Gordon had a late tire issue and mechanical problems and finished 35th.
AUDIO: Jimmy Johnson, Chad Knaus & Rick Hendrick [18:51]
AUDIO: Denny Hamlin [5:28]
AUDIO: Tony Stewart [8:44]
The race also was historic for its green flag laps to start. The first 172 laps were run under green, and that’s the most caution free laps to start a race since NASCAR began keeping track of that statistic. The teams went thru three green flag pitstops before the first caution came out on lap 173 for debris.
Johnson led the most laps with 134 and took the lead for good on lap 325. On the final restart, Johnson powered away from Stewart on the outside. Stewart’s car was having fuel pressure issues and it cost him on the restart. Not only could he not keep pace with Johnson, he couldn’t hold off Hamlin either. Stewart remains winless in 20 Sprint Cup races at Darlington.
Johnson, who started on the outside pole, cruised home to the victory from there as Hamlin was not able to close the gap. Johnson beat him to the checkered flag by .781 seconds.
Johnson moved up three places in the points race with the victory and is now 5th. Biffle’s lead over 6th place Matt Kenseth is down to 2 points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains third and is 14 points back. And Hamlin is fourth, 17 points off the pace.
The series moves to Charlotte for the next two weeks with the All Star race next Saturday night and the Coca-Cola 600 the following Sunday.