Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson celebrate No. 200 - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
How appropriate the driver named "Five Time" should give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win?
Yes, Jimmie Johnson won the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, admittedly the "track too tough to tame." This was no "gimme" for Johnson, who took his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet to the stripe by 0.78-seconds over Denny Hamlin; he led 134 laps over the course of the 368-lap contest to Hamlin's 56, saving sufficient fuel over the 1.366-mile racetrack as the majority of finishers came home on fumes.
Hendrick Motorsports became only the second NASCAR team to sweep to 200 victories in points-paying races as Johnson earned his third Darlington win. He ranks second to teammate Jeff Gordon in the number of Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup wins, 85-56. This was the team's 14th victory at Darlington, recognized by the entire Sprint Cup Series paddock as one of the most difficult circuits on the tour.
Geoff Bodine won Hendrick Motorsports' first race in 1984 - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
It's been a tension-filled six-plus months since the team won 199 last October; they were all hoping to celebrate at Martinsville, home of their first victory with Geoff Bodine at the wheel. But all things considered, at least Hendrick Motorsports didn't have to keep their 200th win celebratory hats in the trailer for three years - as did Roger Penske as he waited for his 100th INDYCAR victory.
"I can't believe we won 200 of these things," an emotional Rick Hendrick crowed. "I can't believe it took this long after 199 - I want to remember all those folks we lost and everybody that helped this thing happen. I thought we were going to haul those hats around forever! Oh, I'm just so proud of these guys… "
NASCAR president Mike Helton, Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
The victory was special for Johnson who remarked that he "had a very fast race car. I want to thank Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for an awesome race car." With reigning titleholder Tony Stewart (who uses Hendrick engines) battling with Johnson at the restart and with very little fuel in their race cars, "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 and hoped that I had saved enough."
Stewart finished third in his No. 14 Office Depot Chevy with Kyle Busch fourth in the No. 18 Wrigley Doublemint Toyota; Martin Truex made it three Toyota racers in the top five in the No. 45 NAPA Auto Parts Camry. The balance of the top 10 were Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Zest Ford, Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Ford, another good result for Hendrick newcomer Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Rockwell Toos Chevy, while Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 DeWalt Ford) and Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) completed the top 10.
Following this race Greg Biffle retains the points lead to teammate Kenseth (-2), Dale Earnhardt is third (he finished 17th), Hamlin fourth, Johnson is fifth, while Truex Jr, Stewart, Kevin Harvick (17th last night), Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards complete the top 10.
Next stop for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is Charlotte Motor Speedway, with the Sprint All-Star race next Saturday and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.