Sunday, May 13, 2012

Johnson, Hendrick Celebrate 200

Hendrick Motorsports has been waiting to celebrate their 200th Sprint Cup victory since Jimmie Johnson won No. 199 at Kansas last October.  The wait finally ended, with Jimmie Johnson winning Hendrick Motorsports' 200th victory at Darlington Raceway.

Hendrick Motorsports now has 200 wins (Courtesy Getty Images)
Points-leader Greg Biffle started on the pole for the second time this season, and took the early lead.  But it wasn't even ten laps before Jimmie Johnson, who started second, began catching Biffle for the lead.  Johnson couldn't get around Biffle, however, and began to back off of Biffle's back bumper.  Biffle began to lap some of the field, and on lap 29 he passed the 10 car, driven by Danica Patrick.  Patrick was making her second career Sprint Cup Series start; her first start was in the Daytona 500, where she finished 38th after getting involved in a crash on lap 2.

Greg Biffle began to be slowed by lapped cars, and Jimmie Johnson was almost able to complete the pass.  He couldn't do it, and Kasey Kahne was able to work his way around his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.  Brad Keselowski came into the pits on lap 47 to begin the first round of pit stops.  By lap 53, pit stops were over, and there was a new leader.  Kyle Busch assumed the race lead after he was one of the first to come into the pits, getting fresher tires sooner than Biffle, Kahne, and Johnson.

Kasey Kahne (5) passes David Ragan (Courtesy Getty Images)

Busch was able to hold the lead for 20 laps, but on lap 72, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson charged past Busch.  On lap 98, Johnson came in to begin another round of green flag pit stops.  Pit stops were done by lap 101, and Johnson was the leader after stops cycled through.  Johnson came in before Biffle, and he was able to make up all his time due to one lap with fresher tires. 

Johnson was the leader when Greg Biffle learned from his mistakes, and became one of the first drivers to come in when more green-flag pit stops occurred on lap 144.  Unfortunately for Biffle, Johnson was able to retain the lead, even after he pitted a whole four laps after Biffle.  Johnson led all the way to lap 172, when debris was spotted in turn 2, to bring out the first caution of the race.

Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green on lap 180, and Kyle Busch was able to jump out to the lead on the restart.  Johnson started on the inside, but Busch was able to use the outside lane to his advantage.  By lap 189, Busch was under fire from Johnson and he was able to make the pass for the lead.  Jeff Gordon's season of bad luck continued, when on lap 194 he cut down his left rear tire.  The caution came out on lap 195 for debris from Gordon's tire.  Denny Hamlin stayed out when all the leaders pitted, and he led the field to the green flag on lap 200.  He restarted on the inside lane, and once again the outside prevailed; Kasey Kahne pulled away from Hamlin with the lead.

Denny Hamlin was running a retro Cale Yarborough paint scheme (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 205, Jeff Gordon suffered another flat left rear tire.  Gordon pulled onto pit road so that his team could find out what was wrong.  On lap 222, Jeff Gordon pulled the car behind the wall.  Denny Hamlin was starting to get worried because he was going to have to make a green flag pit stop, but the caution flew for debris on lap 230, and the leaders were able to pit once again.  Hamlin was able to beat Greg Biffle off of pit road, and he became the leader once again. 

On the restart, Biffle dove off into the first corner and almost passed Hamlin, but his car got extremely loose and he made the best save of the night.  In the process, however, he was passed by Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch and dropped to fourth.  Biffle continued to fall while battling a loose race car, and he was the first to hit pit road on lap 278 to begin another round of green flag pit stops.  Following the pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. was able to get ahead of Denny Hamlin.  During pit stops, Danica Patrick hit the pit cone, and she had to come in for a pass-through penalty.

The caution came out again on lap 298 for a single-car spin by Bobby Labonte.  Following pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. was able to retain the lead after making a two-tire stop.  He led Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin to the green flag on lap 303.  The race only stayed green for three laps, when Regan Smith spun trying to get to pit road.  Smith had front end damage and was trying to make it to pit road for a tire rub.  Some of the leaders pitted, but most of the front-runners stayed out and tried to save fuel.  Jimmie Johnson was shutting his engine off during the caution trying to save as much fuel as possible.

Jeff Gordon (24) and Danica Patrick both had disappointing finishes (Courtesy Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag on lap 311, and held off Kyle Busch for one lap, before Busch was able to make the pass the lap after the restart.  Busch dove into turn 1, slid up the track, and allowed Johnson to get under him.  Johnson couldn't make the car stick, and he had to pull in behind Busch, while Greg Biffle began breathing down his neck.  On lap 316, Jamie McMurray got loose under AJ Allmendinger's car, and they both ended up in the wall, bringing out the sixth caution of the race. 

Kyle Busch picked the outside lane on the restart, and he was able to hold off Johnson to pull away with the lead.  Tony Stewart, who restarted fifth, dove under Greg Biffle for fourth on the restart, almost taking them three-wide with Denny Hamlin.  Joey Logano, who had been running up front, also slapped the wall after the restart, but he was able to continue on.  On lap 324, Jimmie Johnson was able to get around Kyle Busch to retake the lead.  The caution came out once again on lap 330 when Reed Sorenson spun.  It looked as though Jeff Gordon may have made contact with Sorenson's car to turn him around.

The restart came on lap 334, and Johnson was able to hold off Kyle Busch, but Tony Stewart blew by Busch to take second place.  Johnson and Stewart pulled away from Busch, but Stewart could not get up to the back bumper of the 48 car.  With 13 laps to go, Busch's car began to tighten up and he started to reel in the leaders.  As his brother was catching the leaders, Kurt Busch got his first Darlington stripe of the day.  Then a few laps later, his right rear tire went down, causing him to spin in front of a group of cars.  While the 51 car was spinning, Ryan Newman's car was hit, and Newman spun and slapped the inside wall.  The simultaneous spins brought out the eighth caution on lap 361. 

Kurt Busch (51) and Ryan Newman spin (Courtesy Getty Images)
Johnson led Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth to the green flag, and for the second week a row, Tony Stewart had trouble getting through the gears on the restart.  Jimmie Johnson sped away from the pack and was able to win Hendrick Motorsports' 200th Cup Series win.  Denny Hamlin finished second, Tony Stewart was third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.  Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten.  Pole-sitter Greg Biffle finished 12th, while last week's winner Brad Keselowski finished 15th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 17th, and Mark Martin finished 20th.  Danica Patrick finished 31st in her second Sprint Cup Series race.  Jeff Gordon finished 35th after suffering mechanical problems.

Hendrick Motorsports has been waiting since last season to celebrate their 200th win, and it finally came at one of NASCAR's most historic tracks, Darlington Raceway.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series' best drivers put it all on the line for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.  The festivities start at 7 PM next Saturday, and everything can be seen on SPEED.

Courtesy Getty Images

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