Seventeen races and a calendar turn after winning the 199th race in Hendrick Motorsports history at Kansas Speedway last year, Jimmie Johnson grabbed the team's 200th, winning Saturday night's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
"You want to thank everyone from Harry Hyde to Tim Richmond to Geoff Bodine and all the guys along the way that won races and you think you're going to get there and you think you're not ever going to win another one when you get to 199," team owner Rick Hendrick said.
In that span of 17 races, victory had tantalized the Hendrick stable, most notably at Martinsville where Johnson and Tony Stewart were battling for the lead until a late caution flag flew and the two drivers were subsequently caught up in an accident. And while Johnson was the night's dominant driver at Darlington, he had to survive a rash of late-race cautions, including a green-white-checker restart to seal the deal.
However, that restart turned out to be pretty anticlimactic. Stewart, who was second to Johnson and on the inside as the green flag waved, saw his car's fuel intake burp as he hit the throttle, and Johnson cruised away for the win. (While the cautions gave Stewart and Kyle Busch opportunities to overtake the five-time champion, they also allowed Johnson to safely stretch his fuel tank to the end.)
While Johnson's win quells all of the discussion surrounding when win No. 200 would finally appear, it also squashes all of the talk about the No. 48's victory "drought," which, captain obviously, also spanned those 17 races. It speaks to the standard of performance that we've come to expect from the five-time champions that a stretch of 17 races — less than half a season in the Sprint Cup Series — without a win is considered noteworthy. (It's actually not the longest span that Johnson's gone between wins either. That was 19 races from the end of 2002-2003)
Saturday night's win was the 56th of Johnson's career, far and away the second-most wins of any Hendrick driver behind Jeff Gordon's 85. Hendrick's first win as a car owner came at Martinsville Speedway in 1984, with Bodine behind the wheel.
It also moves Johnson into a tie for fifth in the points standings with Martin Truex Jr., 39 points behind points leader Greg Biffle. And if NASCAR's 25-point penalty against Johnson for C-post violations at Daytona hadn't been overturned? He'd be in ninth in the points standings, 64 points behind Biffle.
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