Johnson holds off Labonte for win at Darlington

Jimmie Johnson piloting the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy held off the hard-charging No. 18 Gibbs Chevy of Bobby Labonte to earn his first victory of the year, and first at Darlington Raceway. The win gives Johnson his third top-five outcome in...

Jimmie Johnson piloting the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy held off the hard-charging No. 18 Gibbs Chevy of Bobby Labonte to earn his first victory of the year, and first at Darlington Raceway. The win gives Johnson his third top-five outcome in 2004.

"I can't believe I've won Darlington," said Johnson. "This is unbelievable. This has always been a goal of mine to win at Darlington. We've always had a great car and been very close. And then to do it today with the great car that we had is awesome. We had great teamwork. We had a great car in short runs. The pit stops made the difference and got us the lead and got us the win."

A late race caution, at lap 276, was the break of the race for Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was running third, when the lead lap cars pitted under yellow with Bobby Labonte in the lead. Team 48 performed a lightning quick pit stop getting Johnson out of the pits first.

Labonte looked like he might be able to overtake Johnson as the field went to green with ten laps to go, but trouble ensued behind the leaders. Tony Stewart was hot for the position occupied by Kasey Kahne. Stewart bumped Kahne twice, eventually spinning the No. 9 Dodge.

The incident brought out another late race caution with six laps left to be complete. In the end, Labonte could not overtake Johnson, as he sailed to seventh career win.

"Bobby (Labonte) had the better car," commented Johnson. "I knew I had better air being in the lead and I knew I just had to protect it. I knew he was coming but luckily it was a short run and we were able to bring the car to victory lane. This is an awesome day. I can't believe it. This is the highlight of my career so far."

Labonte managed to hold on for second place, securing his second top-10 finish of 2004.

"We started off a little bit snarled back in 12th," said Labonte. "But we made some adjustments and made it better throughout the day. I would say that lat run we had, that was when it was best and took me past Kurt Busch for the lead. When the caution came out it took us back to a short run, and then the 48 got out of the pits first and I ended up chasing him for second."

Ryan Newman garnered a third place result. Newman had to battle back from a lap down to earn his best finish of the season.

"It was driver's error getting into pit road," said Newman of losing a lap early on. "I caught the cone, and it got us down a lap. We fought back, and we had a great car. We had an awesome car on the longer runs, but we just didn't have enough laps. We came a long way from a lap down to 11 seconds behind - back to third."

Robby Gordon also charts his best finish of the season with a fourth place run. It is a career-best result for Gordon at Darlington.

"Yesterday, I would have never thought we'd be this good," said Gordon. "We changed just about everything under the car. They worked real hard all night long. I'd like to thank everybody back at the shop. This is where it helps when you run the Busch car on Saturday and then you come back to the Cup car on Sunday."

Elliott Sadler completes the top five, grabbing his third top-10 in five races.

"That's a great outcome," said Sadler. "We were a little bit loose most of the day, but my pit crew is the best on pit road. They gained me two or three spots every single time I came into the pits."

The race was slowed by nine cautions, including two serious incidents. The first was between Jeff Gordon and Andy Hillenberg. The No. 20 of Tony Stewart tapped the No. 80 of Hillenberg and sent him sideways across the race track right into the incoming No. 24 of Jeff Gordon. Gordon t-boned Hillenberg, neither racer was injured in the accident.

"I am pretty sore right now," said Gordon. "It was a heck of a hit."

Later in the race, at lap 162, Ricky Rudd and Matt Kenseth made contact, causing Kenseth to spin. As cars checked up behind him Ricky Craven, Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers and Casey Mears tangled together for the only multi- car accident of the event.

Point leader Matt Kenseth, who was involved in the lap 162 wreck, finished 31st, but retains the lead in series standings by 21 points over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tony Stewart (-35), Kurt Busch (-56) and Kasey Kahne (-64) complete the top five in championship rankings.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler