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Johnson Ends ‘Drought’ At The Southern 500

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, May 13 2012

Jimmie Johnson won Saturday night's Southern 500 at historic Darlington Raceway. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Jimmie Johnson broke a 16-race winless streak Saturday night when he won the Southern 500 Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway. He got the victory by pulling away from Tony Stewart on a restart with two laps to go.

The victory by the five-time champion gave Hendrick Motorsports its 200th Cup series victory.

“I want to thank all of the drivers,” team owner Rick Hendrick said, “all of the crew chiefs, and you (Jeff Hammond) and Darrell (Waltrip) and Geoff Bodine and everybody else. I can’t believe we won 200 of these things. 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. Brad Paisley is in his bus on the way here and we’ll have a big party.”

It was Johnson’s 56th career victory.

“What a day,” Johnson, who led a race-best 133 laps, said after embracing Hendrick in Victory Lane. “There was a lot of drama. This race is so special, so great.

“Oh without a doubt. You have got to love that man (Rick Hendrick), he just said 200 is great but let’s go get 250. So that tells you where his head is, I love it. Oh man, what a day. Very fast race car. I want to thank Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for an awesome race car. The Kobalt Tools Chevy was bad fast. We had a little pit thing that went awry earlier in the race, but we still worked our way back up there. Had a great race car and won the race.”

Denny Hamlin finished second while Stewart, who ran out of fuel on the last lap, was third.

“Second isn’t bad but we just didn’t quite have the car to win tonight,” Hamlin said.

Kyle Busch was fourth while Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.

Rounding out the top 10 were Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle, who started from the pole, led until he pitted under green on lap 48. When that first round of pit stops cycled through, Busch had the lead.

Biffle got the lead back when he passed Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on lap 73. He held that lead until the second round of pit stops – which also came under green. When that round of stops cycled through – just after lap 100 – Johnson was the leader. That lead was about 2 seconds over Biffle.

Johnson’ Chevrolet held the lead – which he stretched to over 7 seconds – until a third round of green flag stops, which began just before the lap-150 mark. When the pitting cycled through, Johnson still had the lead but it had been trimmed to just over 1 second by Busch. Ten laps later, however, Johnson’s lead was back up over 5 seconds.

On lap 172, the first caution flag of the night came out – for debris. Johnson led the lead-lap cars into the pits … and then led them back out.

On the lap-179 restart, Busch blew past Johnson in Turn 1 to take the lead. Ten laps later, Johnson reclaimed the lead when he dove under Busch as they headed into Turn 3.

On lap 194 of the 367-lap race, the yellow flag waved for the second time when Jeff Gordon cut a tire. Denny Hamlin of the Joe Gibbs team took the lead by not pitting when the rest of the lead-lap drivers did under the yellow. Johnson restarted 10th as he took four tires while the other eight in front of him took two.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne swept high past Hamlin in Turn 1 on the restart and took the lead.

Kahne was leading by over 2 seconds when a debris caution came out with 137 laps to go. Coming out of the pits first and retaking the lead was Hamlin.

Hamlin had the lead when green-flag stops began with just under 90 laps to go. Ryan Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing moved to the lead when the pitting cycled through.

With 70 laps to go, the caution flag came out when Bobby Labonte spun. Truex and the other lead-lap drivers pitted. Truex, who took two tires, came out first and led the field to green on the restart with 64 laps to go.

Three laps later, Regan Smith spun to bring out a caution. Truex and several other lead-lap cars pitted. Some took just fuel, others took tires also.

When the race went green with 56 laps to go, Johnson had the lead, Busch was second, Hamlin was third and Biffle was fourth.

With 55 laps to go, Busch moved past Johnson to the lead.

Three laps later a wreck involving Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger brought out another caution but the leaders stayed out.

On the restart, Busch fought Johnson off to keep the lead. Behind them were Biffle, Hamlin and Stewart.

With 43 laps to go, Johnson went low and recaptured the lead from Busch.

Six laps later a spin brought out another caution. The top five drivers – Johnson, Busch, Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Biffle – stayed out. On the restart with 33 laps to go, Johnson kept the lead but Stewart quickly jumped to second.

Johnson and Stewart began to pull away. With 10 laps to go, Johnson’s lead was .9 seconds and appeared headed to the victory. But with seven laps to go, Kurt Busch, who was running on the lead lap, scraped the wall and blew a tire to bring out a caution.

Johnson opted to restart from the outside. Stewart was on the inside and behind them were Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Kenseth.

On the restart, Johnson blew out to a five-car lead, held it and won the race by .78 seconds

(This story will be updated shortly)

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, May 13 2012
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