After seven months and 16 races, Jimmie Johnson finally gift-wrapped Rick Hendrick his 200th career win as an owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
For a moment, it looked like we might have had a repeat of Martinsville. After all, the race was decided on a green-white-checkered finish with Johnson restarting in front of two of the most aggressive drivers in NASCAR history in Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
But unlike Martinsville, Johnson cleared the competition on the restart and sailed away to win the Southern 500 by over half a second on Saturday night at Darlington Speedway.
"You gotta love that man. He just said 200's great, but let's go get 250," Johnson said after a postrace exchange in victory lane with his car owner. "So it tells you where his head is. I love it!"
The race came down to a fuel mileage gamble with Johnson, Stewart and Busch last pitting on lap 367. That meant the leaders would need to go at least 67 laps on a track that has a fuel window of 65-70 laps.
Each of the leaders took their chances by running on the apron and flipping their starters off under the caution. Fortunately for them, the yellow flag dropped in bunches, falling four times for 16 laps. That proved to be enough for Johnson to cruise to victory.
With the green-white-checkered finish, the leaders went 69 laps without pitting, which was enough for Johnson but not enough for Stewart. He ran out of gas and stalled on the final restart but rallied to finish P3. Denny Hamlin picked-off second. Busch and Martin Truex completed the top-5.
The Southern 500 wasn't quite as magical for Johnson's HMS teammate, Jeff Gordon. The four-time champion's disappointing season continued on Saturday night, cutting three tires and eventually going to the garage with an unknown problem. He finished in 35th and now sits 24th in the championship standings. The All-Star Break can't come soon enough for the 24 team.
Much like last year's race, the 2012 Southern 500 featured some late-race theatrics between Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman's...gas man.
Busch had brought out the final caution by cutting a tire and spinning in front of Newman with six laps to go. Busch slapped the turn three wall and nearly gathered it up before hitting the turn four wall and spinning in front of Newman.
Both Busch and Newman drifted towards the inside retaining wall, collected damage, and finished in 21st and 23rd respectively. But it didn't end there.
Busch sped through Newman's pit stall after the race and nearly made contact with several of Newman's crew. In response, gas man Andy Rueger (Seymour, IN) charged at Busch and had to be restrained by NASCAR officials.
Busch and Newman talked it over after the race and appeared to set their differences aside. It has to be a frustrating finish for both drivers. Busch was having his best run of the year on a non-restrictor plate track, staying consistently within the top-10, while Newman is fighting to secure a Chase spot.
That's a snapshot of the Southern 500. It's still one of NASCAR's crown jewels and it brings out the best and worst of the Sprint Cup garage.
Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick, and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. It's been a long and storied road to 200 wins and its likely just getting started.
Onto Charlotte Motor Speedway and the All-Star Break. Content editor Matt Weaver will be in attendance, providing live coverage of the Pit Crew Challenge, Camping World Truck Series race and the 28th All-Star Race. Follow his updates on the website or on Twitter @MattWeaverSBN.
The complete rundown and a video of the Busch/Newman conflict can be found after the jump!
|1||2||48||Jimmie Johnson||Lowe's / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet||368||48||5||141.1||$319,786||Running||6||134|
|2||8||11||Denny Hamlin||Sport Clips Toyota||368||43||1||116.4||$238,656||Running||4||56|
|3||17||14||Tony Stewart||Office Depot / MOBIL 1 Chevrolet||368||41||103.1||$209,415||Running|
|4||5||18||Kyle Busch||Wrigley Doublemint Toyota||368||41||1||120.9||$178,123||Running||5||44|
|5||6||56||Martin Truex Jr.||NAPA Auto Parts Toyota||368||40||1||117.2||$147,554||Running||2||25|
|6||19||17||Matt Kenseth||Zest Ford||368||38||96.7||$154,776||Running|
|7||7||99||Carl Edwards||Ford EcoBoost Fusion Ford||368||37||104.8||$145,906||Running|
|8||3||5||Kasey Kahne||Rockwell Tools Chevrolet||368||37||1||108.8||$108,790||Running||2||33|
|9||28||9||Marcos Ambrose||DeWalt Ford||368||35||74.8||$130,748||Running|
|10||21||20||Joey Logano||The Home Depot Toyota||368||34||90.6||$104,715||Running|
|11||26||15||Clint Bowyer||5-hour Energy Toyota||368||33||86.1||$120,969||Running|
|12||1||16||Greg Biffle||3M / OH / ES Ford||368||33||1||115.4||$107,580||Running||2||74|
|13||14||27||Paul Menard||Menards / Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet||368||31||76.4||$100,705||Running|
|14||9||78||Regan Smith||Furniture Row / CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet||368||30||79.4||$117,488||Running|
|15||15||2||Brad Keselowski||Miller Lite Dodge||368||29||75.9||$124,725||Running|
|16||23||29||Kevin Harvick||Budweiser Chevrolet||368||28||85.1||$136,391||Running|
|17||24||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard Chevrolet||368||28||1||75.9||$96,930||Running||1||1|
|18||10||31||Jeff Burton||BB&T Chevrolet||368||26||69.9||$126,530||Running|
|19||13||43||Aric Almirola||Gravely Mower Ford||368||25||67.3||$124,416||Running|
|20||18||55||Mark Martin||Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota||368||24||65.1||$87,605||Running|
|21||25||51||Kurt Busch||Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet||368||23||87.0||$110,063||Running|
|22||31||13||Casey Mears||GEICO Ford||367||22||54.2||$99,063||Running|
|23||4||39||Ryan Newman||WIX Chevrolet||367||21||79.1||$125,263||Running|
|24||27||42||Juan Pablo Montoya||Target Chevrolet||366||20||57.0||$113,696||Running|
|25||36||38||David Gilliland||A&W All American Food Ford||366||19||54.5||$94,913||Running|
|26||20||83||Landon Cassill||Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyota||366||19||1||57.0||$108,575||Running||1||1|
|27||34||36||Dave Blaney||SealWrap.com Chevrolet||365||17||51.0||$78,255||Running|
|28||37||34||David Ragan||Peanut Patch / Margaret Holmes Ford||364||16||38.7||$90,152||Running|
|29||22||47||Bobby Labonte||Scott Products Toyota||364||15||55.3||$88,680||Running|
|30||42||32||Reed Sorenson(i)||Southern Pride Trucking Ford||363||0||39.7||$89,505||Running|
|31||38||10||Danica Patrick(i)||GoDaddy.com Chevrolet||362||0||44.5||$76,980||Running|
|32||33||73||Travis Kvapil||Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyota||362||PE||40.4||$76,805||Running|
|33||16||22||AJ Allmendinger||Shell Pennzoil Dodge||357||11||70.9||$121,480||Running|
|34||11||1||Jamie McMurray||Bass Pro Shops / Allstate Chevrolet||345||10||63.7||$107,813||Running|
|35||12||24||Jeff Gordon||Drive to End Hunger / AARP Chevrolet||339||9||80.9||$124,466||Running|
|36||41||93||David Reutimann||Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyota||314||8||43.4||$84,380||Running|
|37||43||49||JJ Yeley||America Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents Toyota||132||7||32.5||$75,915||Clutch|
|38||39||74||Cole Whitt(i)||Turn One Racing Chevrolet||35||0||30.9||$75,682||Vibration|
|39||32||30||David Stremme||Inception Motorsports Toyota||32||5||34.1||$72,225||Overheating|
|40||40||87||Joe Nemechek(i)||AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota||27||0||31.4||$72,050||Power|
|41||35||52||Mike Skinner(i)||CrusaderStaffing.com Toyota||20||0||29.6||$71,875||Electrical|
|42||29||79||Scott Speed||Team Kyle / KOMA Unwind Ford||20||2||29.5||$71,780||Overheating|
|43||30||26||Josh Wise||Morristown Drivers Service Ford||19||1||27.3||$72,139||Vibration|
Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Andy Rueger pit road video