Johnson wins 200th for Hendrick
Jimmie Johnson finally broke into the winners circle to secure Hendrick Motorsports their coveted 200th Sprint Cup victory, holding off Denny Hamlin in a final three-lap shootout in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Johnson managed to stretch his fuel through the last 68 laps and survived four late-race restarts including a green-white-checkered finish to tally his first win of the season and the victory that team owner Rick Hendrick has been waiting for since Johnson won the 199th victory for the team at Kansas Speedway last October.
“We've been awfully close to winning the 200th for him the last month or two,” said Johnson. “Very happy that we closed the deal today.”
Rick Hendrick scored his first victory is what was then the Winston Cup Series on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville Speedway with Geoff Bodine driving the no. 5 Chevrolet. Since then, 15 drivers have gone to victory lane for Hendrick Motorsports at 25 different tracks. Their 200 win ranks them second all-time behind Petty Motorsports.
“This is a huge moment for all of Hendrick Motorsports,” said Johnson, who began driving for Hendrick in 2001. “There have been a lot of people over the years, a lot of years that led to these 200 wins. I thank them all. I respect them all
“And so happy for Rick, his dedication to the sport, the performance, winning is second to none. So happy for him to get him his 200th.”
Hendrick himself wasn’t even at the track at the start of the race – he was off attending a wedding and flew in just in time to catch the last 100 laps.
It was only after the checkered flag flew that the Hendrick team was finally able to pass out the “200th Win” merchandise they’d been hauling to every race for the last six months.
“I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” said Hendrick of the 200th win. “I thought we were going to haul those hats around forever!”
“You think you're going to get there and then you think you're never going to win another one when you get to 199. When something like this happens, it reminds me of when I won the first championship. I never thought I'd ever get to win a championship. I never thought I'd get to race in NASCAR. I never thought I would win one.
“I told somebody tonight, probably the neatest thing when I look back at NASCAR in my almost 30 years here are the friends that I've got, that I have to race against every week, Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, all those guys. Great friends. This is a special - I don't care what anybody says - family. The NASCAR family is a special family. I'm honored to be able to sit here with these guys tonight. I feel very, very fortunate…just to kind of go along on the ride.”
Saturday’s race saw a record 173 green flag laps before the first caution flag waved for debris, setting up three rounds of green flag pit stops and long stretches at the head of the pack for polesitter Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Johnson, with the four drivers trading the lead 10 times in the first half of the race.
The final half of the race were more of a typical Darlington race – with eight caution flags over the last 195 laps
Lap 300 saw Bobby Labonte loop his Toyota to bring out the fourth caution and brought the field to pit road, including Johnson, who came out third behind Truex and Busch.
Three more caution flags would wave over the next 60 laps, and all the while Johnson stayed out, shutting off his engine to save fuel as the field circled the track under caution, hoping to save just enough to make it to the finish.
On lap 325, after battling Busch for nearly 10 laps, Johnson finally slipped past on the inside to take the lead for the final time.
After Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman crashed to bring out the final yellow with to go, the field came around for a three-lap dash to the finish with Johnson leading Stewart and Hamlin.
At the start, Stewart bobbled giving up second to Hamlin but Johnson jumped out to a five car-length lead and then pulled away, easily beating Hamlin to the line by .781 seconds.
It was Hamlin’s second runner-up effort of the weekend, after losing out in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race to teammate Joey Logano.
“Our finish is because of the crew chief (Darien Grubb) making good calls and the pit crew making good pit stops. That kept us in the ballgame, kept our track position up front,” said Hamlin. “We were planning on taking two that last stop, but I slid through the box, so Darien (Grubb) had to take four tires. Took the lead away from us, second away from us, and at that point we were fifth or sixth, then we just had to battle back.
Matt Kenseth finished sixth to close the gap on Biffle in the points standings, now trailing by just two points. Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose and Logano rounded out the top ten finishers.
* Denotes Rookie
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET, CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, AND RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS - WINNER
KERRY THARP: We are joined in the media center right now by our winning driver and his crew chief. We have Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Certainly the five time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. Did it here in a big fashion tonight. This is Jimmie's 56th career win, his first win in 2012, his third victory here at Darlington. Topping everything, this is Hendrick Motorsports 200th career victory.
Jimmie, I know that's a big one. Just talk about your emotions winning the 200th win for Rick Hendrick here tonight.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just very proud of the effort that the whole 48 team put together. We've been awfully close to winning the 200th for him the last month or two. Very happy that we closed the deal today.
My mind goes back to the early days of Hendrick Motorsports, the people that won the early races, worked on the early cars, helped Rick build Hendrick Motorsports to what it is today. I think of Harry Hyde, Tim Richman, Geoff Bodine, Kenny Schrader, a lot of people over the years that put a lot of time and effort and commitment into this organization. So I'm thinking of all those people.
And so happy for Rick, his dedication to the sport, the performance, winning is second to none. So happy for him to get him his 200th.
KERRY THARP: Rick Hendrick, congratulations. 200 wins, bobblehead doll.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Look how skinny that guy is (laughter).
KERRY THARP: Rick, talk about your feelings here, the 200th victory here, coming at a track that is too tough to tame, but tonight the 48 team tamed it.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I thought we had it done races back. Martinsville was one that I thought would mean so much, the first one, to get 200 there. Because of the accident there, it was going to be special.
But tonight, when I think about Darlington, how special this place is, in 1976, I had a little Chevy dealership over here in Bennettsville. My wife and I about a third of the way through the race drove in the track, drove up behind the stands, didn't buy a ticket, parked the car and went up in the stands and watched the race. I don't know how we did that. To think, it's been a lot of years since then.
I'm just proud of these guys and the whole organization. You want to thank everybody from Harry Hyde to Tim Richman and Geoff Bodine, all the guys along the way that won races.
You think you're going to get there and then you think you're never going to win another one when you get to 199. Really proud. This was a heck of a race tonight. I was in the mountains at 8:00 at a wedding that I couldn't get out of. Got here to see the last hundred laps. Glad it worked out.
KERRY THARP: Chad Knaus, certainly you've been a parent of many wins over your career. This one has to be ranked right near the top.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, this is a special place. Definitely to run and win 500 miles here at Darlington is definitely one of the crown jewels of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. To be able to win here again is pretty awesome, especially to be able to get the 200th.
A long time ago when I started at Hendrick Motorsports back in 1993, man, I think I was like the 75th employee. To sit back and think of the people that were there before me, the people that have been there since the day I started, contributed to the efforts, man, the list is long and varies.
I'm proud to be a part of it. I bled HMS for a long time. To be a part of this, get 200 victories, we got the 150th for Mr. H in Vegas. I guess we won our 50th victory here at Darlington. I was changing tires for the 24 car. I had the Oakley glasses, mullet. I was rocking back then (laughter).
To think of the people that have been there then, those that are gone, it's a proud accomplishment and glad to have done it.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, I think you have something you want to present your owner there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This is a helmet that has been signed by all the drivers that have contributed, too, and some drivers that aren't with us, their family members have signed. So this is from all of us.
RICK HENDRICK: Thanks, buddy.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Absolutely, boss.
RICK HENDRICK: I'm a pack rat anyway. I save everything. I invite the media here if you want to go through the Heritage Center, I'll take you. So much history, so many great things, so much friends. We do have our secret sauce in the back of the room that never comes out to see anyone, been with me since 1984 or '85 when we ran a GTP car, Ken Howes, our competition director, that I drug in here tonight. We owe him a lot. I owe him a lot for all that he's done for us along the way.
Again, when something like this happens, it reminds me of when I won the first championship. I never thought I'd ever get to win a championship. I never thought I'd get to race in NASCAR. I never thought I would win one.
Then to look back. When something like this happens to you, you got to think that you've been blessed, number one, but then you've been blessed to be around some great, great people. To see Chad grow into what he's become as a crew chief. And Jimmie, when he was 16, we got him in a late model car, then to see them do the things that they've done, I feel very, very fortunate, you know, just to kind of go along on the ride.
I told somebody tonight, probably the neatest thing when I look back at NASCAR in my almost 30 years here are the friends that I've got, that I have to race against every week, Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, all those guys. Great friends. This is a special I don't care what anybody says family. The NASCAR family is a special family. I'm honored to be able to sit here with these guys tonight. This will be the centerpiece of the man cave (smiling).
KERRY THARP: Let's open it up for questions.
Q. Chad, I saw you in the garage earlier today putting the numbers on the side of the car. Really didn't look like you were having a very good day. Coming into the race tonight, did you really think you had the car that was capable of being as dominant as it was tonight?
CHAD KNAUS: You'll be quite surprised, I actually enjoy working on the cars, I just don't get the opportunity to do it anymore.
Yeah, second lap on the track, Jimmie decided to go ahead and break the racecar in and smack the wall yesterday. We had some work, some repair work, pull all the crush panels out of it, put new decals on the side.
It was really busy this morning. I have to thank all the pit crew guys. They chipped in as well. If you could have seen it, looked like a swarm of bees around the KOBALT car. We had a ton of body damage that we had to try to get pounded out, fixed and repaired before we could think about working on the setup.
It was a busy morning. I thought our car was good. To qualify as fast as it did, Jimmie was comfortable with it yesterday in race trim. We felt pretty confident coming into the event.
Q. Jimmie, tonight, from watching up here in the press box, other people rose and fell, but it looked like track position notwithstanding, all night long probably the cars that looked strongest were yours and Martin Truex's. Do you think that's an accurate assessment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I didn't see Martin. I wasn't around Martin when he was up front leading. We were coming through the pack some. I knew he led a lot. I don't really call passing him. I don't know how I got by him.
Early, the 16. We led a lot. The 18 surprised me a little, hung around, got a little bit stronger on the short run. So my mind, a lot of the racing, when I was worried about leading and fighting for the lead, was the 18, middle part of the race, towards the end. The 56 definitely was fast.
Q. Hamlin probably deserves some mention there, too.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't see him really leading either. I think that's when we were back in the pack.
Q. Jimmie, yesterday when I asked you what it would come down to, you mentioned it might come down to fuel. Tonight you were trying to save fuel. Did you at any time fear you would run out? Did it become an issue?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, Chad told me on the radio we made our bed and had to lie in it on the strategy, I thought about sitting here answering that question about being the first guy with enough fuel to go the distance and track position being everything. It really did turn out to be that way.
We caught some cautions that helped. Then we just had a really fast racecar where, you know, I could try to save fuel going down the straightaway, but not using a lot of gas, not use much brake, and just fly through the corner. The car handled so well, it allowed me to save more fuel.
But I still was really nervous with the 14 behind me. He's been the guy week after week that can go the distance. I was trying to pace myself off of him. It worked out. Did a nice job saving fuel.
But I was nervous, definitely nervous. Then even I came around to get the white, I had a nice gap, and Chad was still asking me to be smart and save some fuel if I could. I'm like, What, it's the end of the race. But there was some concern about fuel, for sure.
Q. It's been eight months since victory 199. That's become a joke with the hats and everything like that. Jimmie said at Kansas a couple weeks ago, Rick, that it would be a relief to get past this. Is it nice to get this monkey off your back and get on with the season now?
RICK HENDRICK: I think in all the years I've ever raced, I know when I've had four cars, to have four cars that run as good as these cars have run every week, to have something happen. I mean, we had oil pump issues, we've had cut tires, I mean, just things that were out of our control. Then cautions coming after you've dominated the race.
It just looked like that, you know, we were stuck. I literally said the other day, I don't believe we can go half a year, run that many seconds, lead that many laps, looked like all the bad luck was coming at one time.
But it's a competitive field out there. It's a lot of good cars you see. Michael Waltrip's team, how they stepped it up. It's just very competitive.
But I do feel like, you know, Kasey has had the worst luck. Jeff, I wouldn't fly home with him, you know (laughter). But it's just been unbelievable. I told him that out there. I said, I got seats on the helicopter, but you can't go with me.
I think this is over now. I think there was tension. I think all the guys wanted it. We wanted it. We got ready for it. Then it just didn't happen.
Q. Can you address that, Jimmie?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely nice to have it out of the way. My focus really has been on making sure the 48 does the best job that it can. If we're able to win, we'd hopefully be able to be the guy to get the 200th win. We've been very close, especially through the start of the season.
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.
You said nine months or eight months since we won?
Q. It was October.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was thinking, though, some of that was off season, so we did have a couple months where we couldn't get near the track to win, and it was only 16 races. The bar is high for HMS. That's a good problem to have (smiling).
Q. Jimmie, I was going to ask you about your sponsorship with Lowe's and KOBALT over the years.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was telling Rick earlier, I remember sitting at the 100th win celebration at the back of the room, wasn't driving at HMS yet. Probably had another six or eight months before my time started.
We didn't have a sponsor. We weren't sure what was going to happen. Rick and Jeff took that chance and started building a team for me. I remember sitting in with the then CEO Bob Tieleman at a meeting. Stared across a table at me, asked point blank, Can you win? My company deserves a winner. Can you win?
I looked at him right in his eye and said, Absolutely, I can win.
We all left that meeting thinking we made more promises than we could live up to. It all worked out. We just have an amazing relationship with Lowe's, their other division KOBALT Tools. It's been great for us to represent them and all their employees, but the relationship they have with Rick, it's really like family with those guys. We're happy to get them some more recognition. I know there's a lot of employees celebrating tonight.
Q. Jimmie, before the race in the drivers meeting you had an extensive conversation with Danica. Was it anything interesting you might want to tell us about?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think she was chatting with Chad at first. I saw her over there. Talking about the flow of the race. She was sharing some of her experiences through her first lap on track to where she was now, how she had been throughout her life in motorsports, knew there were tracks with big challenges. She said she underestimated how big of a challenge this racetrack would be.
She looked like she was fast at the end of the race. Took me a few laps to get by her. Looks like she did a good job and ran well. She had a lot of advice from people. Chad and I were going through a couple things on the flow of the race. She was a little bit concerned about getting off the pace, how to handle that. Chad and I both shared that when people try to get out of the way on this track, it's so narrow, it usually creates problem. For her to drive hard, be smooth and consistent, stay up to speed, let people work their way around her and by her if they got to her.
I think she did a great job tonight.
Q. Rick, I know you were joking about Jeff. He's now 22 points out of 20th. You had big hopes for getting all four cars in the Chase. Do you still feel like it's possible?
RICK HENDRICK: He's got to win. I mean, he and Alan know that. As good as he runs, as good as that car has been this year at different places, we can do it. I mean, it's an uphill battle. But I am confident Jeff will put everything he's got in it and we'll win some races with him.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations to Rick Hendrick, 200th win, Jimmie Johnson, and Chad Knaus.
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET – THIRD-PLACE FINISHER
KERRY THARP: Joining us now is tonight's third place finisher, Tony Stewart. Stewart is now seventh in points.
Tony, just take us through that race. Certainly had a lot of ups and downs. You certainly had a good racecar tonight.
TONY STEWART: It ended up really good. I was really proud of Steve Addington (crew chief) and all of our crew. We kind of struggled there the first half of the race. We fought loose in one and two, really tight in three and four. So it's really hard to fix the balance of the racecar when it's doing two different things on two different ends.
Really proud of Addington. He just kept throwing things at it to try to get a direction. Once he got on [to] what it was like, it got a lot better at the end there. We got both ends at least to do the same thing and we could balance it out from there.
I broke the clutch about 85 to go. Came in the pits. They jacked it up, looked at it, figured out we could keep going. But we came in, because we looked at it, took the option to come back in and top it off with fuel, just basically got the opportunity the next caution. When everybody came in, we got up to eighth, had two really good restarts after that that got us up to second.
Then coming to the green, we actually lost fuel pressure, with one to go, and that's why we were on the apron trying to get fuel to the pickups. Got it back, but then lost it again coming off four to the green. Coming down the front straightaway on the restart, it kind of laid down a little bit, that dropped us back to third.
You know, considering the hurdles of the day, I'm pretty happy with a third place run.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions.
Q. Tony, I know this is one you want to fill in the blanks. You made the best of it. Was there ever any time in this race that you thought, This is the time I'm going to do it?
TONY STEWART: I was pretty frustrated about halfway through because we just kept fighting the same issues on the respective ends of the track. We just kept fighting loose and couldn't get it tightened up in one and two and couldn't do anything. Because we were trying to tighten up it up on one and two, we didn't really have the opportunity to try to free up three and four.
So it's hard and frustrating when you got two different conditions going on. We basically fought that loose condition in one and two since we unloaded yesterday. So it just kind of was frustrating that we couldn't find anything and couldn't hit on it. After the first couple runs of the race, having two or three chances to take a stab at it, didn't seem like we were making the direction. It was frustrating.
It's why we won a championship last year, too. We never give up. Steve kept me positive. He was calm the whole time. He kept saying, I'll work on it, I'll get it fixed. It just kept me calm. Sure enough, we finally got it to do one thing and then we could work on it from there and try to get it the rest of the way.
Q. Tony, given that this is Darlington, it was her first run, you had to be pretty pleased that Danica made it to the end here?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I got to watch a lot tonight, even if it was from afar. I'm ecstatic with the results. Don't know where she finished. Don't know how many laps down it was. She ran good lap times tonight. There was a period of the race where she said her balance was at her best, she was within a 10th of the leaders at that point in the race. Really, really proud of her. Really thankful to Greg Zipadelli and all those guys.
This is a long weekend. What she did in these two days is hard to do. To have the result, the way she ran last night, I'm sure I'll get a chance to watch more of what she did after we get home. The time I was around, got to watch, she did a really good job.
This is a hard place to learn. First time I came here, about the fourth time I crashed, I finally was glad they couldn't fix it because I'd had enough for the night. I'm pretty proud as a car owner of what she did both nights.
Q. Do you know anything about Ryan's pit crew getting in an altercation with Kurt's?
TONY STEWART: I haven't yet. First thing I did was go down and congratulate Rick Hendrick and Jimmie, then went to find Danica. But I will find out after we leave here what happened.
Q. What does it mean to you that Rick Hendrick wins 200? What do you think about it?
TONY STEWART: I think it's phenomenal, especially with the competition every year getting tougher and tougher. It's harder and harder to win these races.
Especially for it to happen at the Southern 500, too, such a historic race, it's a pretty cool milestone. I was trying to postpone it another week by trying to get to Jimmie and just couldn't do it. The closer I got to him, the tighter I got.
That was one of the best runs we had. I wasn't strong enough to deal with him. I had plenty of car left. He was just riding and trying to save fuel. They won it in dominating fashion.
To win a 200th race, you don't want to back into the win. He dominated it and took it the way they should.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: I'll never make it that long, so...
Q. On the final restart, you're on the inside, side by side with the leader, yet the inside line is a zero at this track the way you have to go into turn one. Were you thinking Jimmie is going to win it unless something fluky happens?
TONY STEWART: No. The restart before, even when we broke the clutch, it didn't bother us except on the pit stops. Going through the gears, it wasn't an issue.
We actually spun the tires the restart before when we lined up behind him. We actually kind of got him shot into one and got him ahead. That got us to second, obviously.
I thought that we may have a shot at it if he spun the tires again, but we ran out of fuel coming off of four. It didn't run all the way out of fuel, but it laid down enough that it didn't run a hundred percent going down into turn one. Once we got into one, we got the fuel to the pickup and we just lost our spot doing it and it took away our opportunity to try.
Q. There was a lot of talk before the race and during this week that the pavement had turned grayer, the old Darlington was coming back. On the last caution, there were several guys that came in and took four tires. When we had the green white checkered, they really didn't go anywhere. Whether it's the tire or the track, is it still track position more than tires at this place?
TONY STEWART: It's so narrow that you don't have that luxury that you have at some of the other tracks where you can go numerous different spots on the racetrack. One and two, you're pretty much line committed. Three and four, you had guys all night all over the racetrack. I mean, this is the first time I ever remember being at Darlington and seeing guys in turn three and four all the way underneath the hashmarks on the first level of banking. It wasn't even on the racetrack, it was on the highest level of the apron. There were guys that were running down there. It actually made me want to try it, too (laughter).
I went down there a couple times and couldn't make much ground on it. I mean, I was running on spots in the racetrack I've never even been on. So it's definitely losing a lot of that grip and it took it all night before it really gripped back up at the end.
KERRY THARP: Tony, thanks for putting on a great show here this evening.
TONY STEWART: Thank you
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