Jimmie Johnson cruised the No. 48 to victory in the 55th and final Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Johnson swapped the lead with Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and others most of the day, but in the end quick pit stops and horsepower landed the No....
Jimmie Johnson cruised the No. 48 to victory in the 55th and final Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Johnson swapped the lead with Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and others most of the day, but in the end quick pit stops and horsepower landed the No. 48 team in the winners circle for a series-high eighth time this year.
"I can't believe that," said Johnson. "Winning the Southern 500 and winning at Martinsville with what took place with the airplane and Hendrick Motorsports. Going to Atlanta and doing it. Fighting our way back in this championship. I just can't believe it."
It is Johnson's fourth win of the Chase for the Championship in the last five races. The win puts him back in contention for the series title moving him into the second spot a mere 18 points behind leader Kurt Busch.
"It's going to be a heck of a shootout," said Johnson on the final race to decide the championship. "NASCAR got what they wanted here."
Mark Martin exchanged the lead many times on Sunday but in the end just couldn't out horse power the No. 48 Chevy. He finished second.
"I'm thrilled with the outcome of the race," said Martin. "I would have liked to have five more laps. My car was fast on new tires, fast on old tires. We had a ball. We were fast all day and stayed up front.
"It would have been nice to win."
Jeff Gordon looked poised to win until a late race pit stop took the No. 24 Chevy out of contention. The No. 24 team dropped the car on the air hose during service stops sending Gordon from first to sixth. Gordon did not have time to work his way back to the front and had to settle for third.
"We made a mistake and it cost us the win," said Gordon. "We came back and fought back to third. Mistakes happen. I've made them, everybody makes them. But right now at this time in the game in this championship, that cost us a lot. We've got some work to make up in Homestead."
Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne complete the top five.
"Our car was really loose all day long," said Kahne who earned his 14th top- 10 of the season. "We stayed out there to try and gain track position on old tires, we just held those guys off and came out with a top five finish that we probably shouldn't have had."
Due to inclement weather the field was set by owner's points, placing point leader Kurt Busch on the pole. Jeff Gordon, however, quickly motored past Busch for the lead on lap two. Gordon began to fall off twenty laps into the event allowing Jimmie Johnson to gain the lead.
Johnson led until a round of pit stops on lap 65 where Mark Martin snatched the lead pushing Johnson back to fourth. Johnson would not be denied and passed Martin to regain the lead at lap 79. A caution brought the field to pit road again for service at lap 83 and Martin beat the field off to once again garner the top spot.
Martin and Johnson continued to swap the lead until lap 116 when Jamie McMurray passed them both for the lead. McMurray had just grabbed the number one position when Bobby Labonte spun on lap 118 brining out the second caution of the day. It was great news for point leader Kurt Busch who had brushed the wall and had a tire going down. Busch escaped having to pit under green flag conditions but spent a lengthy time on pit road making repairs.
Busch managed to get out the last car on the lead lap. McMurray gave up the lead under those stops as Robby Gordon and the No. 31 RCR Chevy team garnered the vantage point.
Gordon led on the restart at lap 125 but heavy smoke from a tire rub began to pour off the No. 31 ride. Gordon held off the hard-charging cars of Martin and Johnson until lap 139 when Johnson finally out horse powered the RCR Chevy.
Martin and Johnson continued to trade the lead until a round of stops on lap 198 when Jeff Gordon beat them both off pit lane. Johnson had a particularly long pit stop as a lug nut got stuck on the left side sending him to from first to ninth.
Gordon led through lap 248 when a yellow flag for debris sent the leaders to the pits.
Martin stole the lead with a quicker stop but Gordon would not be denied quickly working his way past the No. 6 Roush Ford. Gordon kept his spot at the top through a caution at lap 302 when Kyle Petty hit the wall in turn two as Ricky Rudd and Sterling Marlin crashed in turn four.
Gordon pulled out to a 1.4 second advantage over the field with 36 laps to go, but another yellow halted his march to victory lane. Ryan Newman blew an engine on lap 329 bringing the leaders onto pit road.
The No. 24 team tangled the air hose during that stop sending Gordon from first to sixth as Johnson seized the lead. But Johnson was being stalked by the No. 99 Ford of Carl Edwards. Edwards was racing Johnson like it was the last lap trying to put the bumper on him when Kevin Harvick's limping No. 29 Chevy stalled on the apron brining out the caution.
Most of the leaders came in for fresh tires but the No. 42 of Jamie McMurray and the No. 9 of Kasey Kahne did not pit snatching the one-two spots and sending Johnson to third. Johnson quickly passed Kahne as he crept up on McMurray.
It would take until lap 358 for the No. 48 to finally sail past the No. 42 Dodge. From there, Johnson reigned unchallenged to sweep both events at Darlington Raceway this season.
Kurt Busch has the catbird seat with one event left to settle the inaugural NEXTEL Cup. Jimmie Johnson (-18), Jeff Gordon (-21), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (- 72), Mark Martin (-82), Tony Stewart (-185), Ryan Newman (-244), Matt Kenseth (-383), Elliott Sadler (-383) and Jeremy Mayfield (-404) complete the top ten.
"We really missed the set-up and to be able to pull off a finish like this really makes us smile," commented Busch who finished sixth. "To be in this position at the end of the race today is really a tribute to my crew."
There were eight cautions for 47 laps and 27 lead changes among 10 drivers.