Jimmie Johnson came through to score Hendrick Motorsports’s 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup win last Saturday night at Darlington, South Carolina.
Johnson’s victory in the Southern 500 brought an end to a six-month, 16-race winless streak for the five-time NASCAR champion and Hendrick’s four-car Sprint Cup team. Johnson scored the team’s 199th win at the Kansas Speedway last October but he and team-mate Jeff Gordon have been frustrated in their efforts to collect Rick Hendrick’s 200th win. At Martinsville last month Johnson, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were running one-two-three late in the race only for the it to be thrown into disarray by a late-race yellow flag.
Johnson led 134 of the 367 laps at Darlington, more than any other driver. The race ran caution flag-free through its first half and Johnson was leading by five seconds when the first yellow flew. At the end of the race he was still leading, nursing his fading fuel supply, when a collision between Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch resulted in a green-white-chequered finish. In the two-lap sprint to the finish Johnson made a perfect restart and pulled away to win comfortably from Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
Johnson’s Darlington victory was his 56th Sprint Cup win, moving him out of a tie with Rusty Wallace into sole possession of eighth place on NASCAR’s all-time winners list. All of Johnson’s 56 wins have come with Hendrick. “You’ve got to love that man,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘200 is great. But let’s go get 250.’ So that tells you where his head is at. I love it.”
Hendrick found himself compelled to leave the pit box and pace the back of the pits as the race wound down. “I had to get away,” Hendrick said. “They said we were going to make it on fuel, but I don’t believe them you know? Everything has happened backward for us this year. We’ve run so good and then had such bad luck. I’m glad it’s over. I think we’re going to win a few more now.”
Hendrick started his team in 1984 and Geoff Bodine scored Hendrick’s first NASCAR win on April 29, 1984 at the half-mile Martinsville, Virginia bullring. Today, Hendrick employs more than 400 people and runs four Chevrolets for Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Eanrhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne. Hendrick’s operation also builds chassis and engines for current Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart’s team. The only team to have won more first division NASCAR races than Hendrick is Richard Petty Motorsports which has accumulated 270 wins over 63 years starting in 1949.