Sixteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races without a win may not seem like a long winless drought for some organizations, but when the organization is Hendrick Motorsports and the next win is victory 200th at the Cup level, 16 races may seem like an eternity.
Heading to Darlington (S.C.) Raceay for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, car owner Rick Hendrick had already come close to seeing one of his cars drive into victory lane several times in 2012, but something always happened in the closing laps of those races to keep his drivers from claiming win 200 for HMS.
Jimmie Johnson, the driver who captured win 199 last season, finally snapped the winless streak by taking the checkered flag after a green-white-checker restart at Darlington Saturday night.
“I can’t believe it took this long since 199,” Hendrick said. “This is a big deal for all our people. I’m kind of numb, but I’m glad it’s over.”
After the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle dominated the early laps of the race, Johnson took the lead during a cycle of green flag pit stops that got underway on lap 96. Other drivers led throughout the remainder of the race — including the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch (18) and Denny Hamlin (11) — but Johnson was the class of the field, at times having cushions of as much as seven seconds on his competitors.
In the end, Hamlin took runner-up honors, with Tony Stewart finishing third, Busch fourth and Martin Truex Jr. rounding out the top-five.
Hendrick didn’t get to Darlington until after the Southern 500 took the green flag, because he attended a wedding earlier in the day. But the car owner was on hand to celebrate the milestone victory with his team.
Geoff Bodine claimed the first win for Hendrick Motorsports when he took the checkered flag at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in 1984. The organization’s first Southern 500 win came with Tim Richmond behind the wheel in 1986.
In all, 15 drivers have contributed to the HMS win total over the years, with Jeff Gordon accounting for the most (85). Other drivers winning Sprint Cup races in Hendrick Motorsports entries include Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Busch, Ricky Rudd, Brian Vickers, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jerry Nadeau and Joe Nemechek.
“I want to thank all the drivers and all the crew chiefs,” Hendrick said.
The organization has 18 wins at Darlington, seven of those with Gordon behind the wheel.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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