I know that with the “Lion’s Share” of the first 199 wins, Jeff Gordon would want to give Rick Hendrick Number 200, but the bad luck that has plagued the Drive To End Hunger Dupont Chevrolet this season, would continue on this night at Darlington. Jimmie Johnson, however, was on a mission Saturday Night in the BoJangles 500 to get that elusive 200th win for his boss.
The Racing world has been waiting since October to have this celebration, that everyone knew was coming, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, on a beautiful Saturday Night with all the Mom’s in attendance at the place where modern stock car racing began. This was the perfect place at the perfect time. It was only fitting that The Lady In Black would provide the setting.
Jimmie Johnson, in his Lowes Chevrolet would not be denied in a race that started out to be a battle of tire management, and ended up being decided by fuel management. After a late race caution, Martin Truex who was a force to be reckoned with all night in his Napa Auto Parts Toyota, came down pit road for tires and a load of Sunoco fuel, found himself back in the pack 10 places in back of the leaders who didn’t pit. This is a mistake that took him out of contention.
During three subsequent cautions, The Lowes Chevrolet was deep in fuel management mode, turning his engine off and coasting, only starting it as necessary, to keep up with the pace car. This was necessary to hold off a hard charging Tony Stewart, who had not been a factor until late in the race. Tony would run out of fuel on the last lap, and finish behind Denny Hamlin in third place. Smoke said in an interview after race that his fuel pressure was dropping during the one-to-go, which was evident as he pulled his Office Depot Chevy down on the apron, to keep his gas tank level. His presents occupied Denny Hamlin long enough to let Jimmie Johnson get a lead he would not relinquish.
Jimmie Johnson ended a win-less streak that went back to the Hollywood Casino 400 in October of last year. After a controversial start at Daytona in February, where he was fined and docked 25 Driver Points, and a Lap 1 crash in the Daytona 500, rendered a 42nd place finish, JJ has been on a mission to get back into contention. His win Saturday night pushes him up three positions to share 5th with Martin Trues Jr, only 39 points behind Leader Greg Biffle.
Car owner Rick Hendrick had to make two trips to Nascar,s arbitration board, where he pleaded his case, and got Jimmie Johnson’s 25 points restored, as well as fines and suspensions reversed for his Crew Chief and Car Boss. This vaulted the Lowes Chevrolet back into contention, and Jimmie Johnson has done the rest.
The Victory Lane celebration included interviews from all who had contributed to the 200 win milestone, including Geoff Bodine who was the first, at Martinsville in 1984. The Speed Channel festivities included past Hendrick drivers Darrel Waltrip, Rickey Rudd and Terry Labonte. Nascars most successful owner was heralded by all who has been part of his storied career in this sport. Everyone to a man lauded the fact that when you work for Rick Hendrick, you become part of his family, and anytime you needed anything, you could always call, and he would be there.