|Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR|
Welcome to Darlington, or as most call it “The Lady in Black.” Would the Hendrick drivers make it without a stripe? Or would that 200th win finally come?
Kasey Kahne, No. 5
Kasey Kahne’s luck just keeps improving as he scored another top-ten finish. He had a flawless night in Darlington, quickly challenging for the top spot and battling teammate Jimmie Johnson for second. Kahne became the leader on Lap 49, when Greg Biffle pitted. Kahne then pitted soon after, getting a bonus point for leading.
On Lap 200, Kahne restarted second and quickly passed leader Denny Hamlin. On Lap 230 the caution flag waved for teammate Jeff Gordon who had a tire go down. Kahne lost the lead during pit stops. He bounced back, though, and ended his night in 8th, now ranking 16th in the points. That's a gain of 3 positions from last week, up 15 spots total since week six at Martinsville.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24
Jeff Gordon started his night off looking great; by Lap 22 he was in the top ten. The No. 24 looked to be a factor in the race. Gordon maintained the top-ten spot but also received his first Darlington stripe of the night. On Lap 193 the No. 24 suffered a cut tire and had to pit, putting him two laps down. Five laps later, he cut another tire, but instead of fixing the issue on pit road, he headed to the garage. Finishing 35th wasn’t what Gordon wanted; sitting 24th in points the team needs some luck to turn this season around.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48
|Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images|
Johnson wasn’t about to let Biffle out of his sight. The No. 48 kept battling for the lead and it would finally pay off. With great pit strategy Johnson pitted ahead of Biffle during a series of green flag stops and gained the lead. Johnson held the top spot for 72 laps and looked to have the race in the bag. Though on the Lap 180 restart Johnson lost his lead to Kyle Busch, he was quick to gain it back on Lap 189. When the caution came out for teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson took four tires while the leaders took two, sending him to 10th.
On Lap 307 caution came out. While the leaders pitted, Johnson stayed out - a gutsy move. Crew Chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to save gas so he turned his engine on and off to conserve during the yellow. Another caution quickly came out and he was just as quick to start saving fuel again.
With 48 laps remaining, Johnson battled Kyle Busch for the lead and got it. Surviving yet another caution, Johnson was great at saving fuel. A move some said was risky proved to pay off. Johnson scored his first win of the season, but that’s not all. Finally, after months of trying, Hendrick Motorsports got their 200th win. This 200th win is special, something for the history books. Johnson scored win 199 at Kansas last year, so it seems fitting for him to get the 200th. After all the celebrating, the important thing now is that the win gained Johnson three spots in the points. He now ranks fifth.
“Yeah, just very proud of the effort that the whole 48 team put together," Johnson said about finally getting the landmark win for Hendrick Motorsports. “We've been awfully close to winning the 200th for him the last month or two. Very happy that we closed the deal today. My mind goes back to the early days of Hendrick Motorsports, the people that won the early races, worked on the early cars, helped Rick build Hendrick Motorsports to what it is today. I think of Harry Hyde, Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Kenny Schrader...a lot of people over the years that put a lot of time and effort and commitment into this organization. So I'm thinking of all those people. And so happy for Rick, his dedication to the sport, the performance. Winning is second to none. So happy for him to get him his 200th.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s night started off on a sour note: the car was too loose, it just wouldn't drive. Even though the car handled poorly, he was still able to make passes, getting the No. 88 in the top 20 from his starting place in 24th. He went a lap down early, but on Lap 230, Earnhardt Jr. got a lucky break when he received the lucky dog getting him back on the lead lap. Despite the issues he had, he did get a bonus point for leading during green flag stops. It wasn't the best of nights for Earnhardt Jr. with a 17th place, but he retained third spot in the points.