It was hard to tell whether Jimmie Johnson was happier for his boss, Rick Hendrick, for Hendrick Motorsports 200th victory or ending a 16-race winless drought on Saturday night in Darlington.
Since Johnson won in Kansas, last October, neither the five-time champion nor his team owner had been to victory lane.
"I can't believe we've won 200 of these things. I can't believe it took this long after 199," said Mr. Hendrick.
Johnson led a race-high 134 laps, pulling away from Denny Hamlin on a restart with three laps to go. It was his 56th Sprint Cup win putting him eighth on the all-time list.
"That guy’s something," Johnson said about Hendrick in Victory Lane. "He said, 'We won 200. Let’s get 250.' So glad to have it behind us and glad for this moment to be here for Rick, the company, all the people that have contributed to the 200th win. It's a special day," added Johnson.
But his biggest nemesis earlier was Tony Stewart. Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, gambled at an earlier caution to stay on the track to keep his number one position. Johnson was told to save gas.
"In a fuel mileage race, when you see that No. 14, (Stewart) 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. Hoped that I had saved enough."
Stewart himself admitted he had fuel issues on the last stint allowing Hamlin to finish second. Kyle Busch was fourth.
Danica Patrick finished 31st in her second Cup race.
The race was caution free for the first 172-laps the longest green flag period, at the track known as "too tough to tame," since NASCAR has kept records.
After the race there was an incident in the pits involving members of the Kurt Busch’s team and Ryan Newman’s. NASCAR is investigating the facts leading up to that incident. No immediate action was taken.
Hendrick Motorsports first victory goes back to Martinsville, VA. with Geoff Bodine at the wheel in April of 1984. While that paper clip-shaped track has seen the most HMS victories – 18 –, sadly, it was on the way to a race there in 2004 that ten family members and HMS team members perished in a plane crash.
Hendrick dedicated the win to lose lost in that accident. After the race he was presented with a helmet autographed by all of his drivers (or family members) in HMS’ 28-year history.
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