Sunday, May 13, 2012

History is made at the Lady in Black: Southern 500 Replay

History is always made at Darlington Raceway, and the May 12, 2012 Bojangles’ Southern 500 will forever be remembered as the night that Jimmie Johnson started the race in second position to move on and score the 200th win for Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports.
Team Hendrick was meant to be a part of history Saturday. Kasey Kahne qualified third, tying Johnson's lap time and speed.

In the beginning, Greg Biffle took the lead. Johnson followed close behind and Kahne stayed in third for the first 50 to 60 laps with drivers racing in a single-file line. 

Kahne took the lead on Lap 49, but Johnson quickly moved ahead to take the lead as drivers made green flag pit stops.

By Lap 61, Kyle Busch had driven the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota to the lead, and Kahne held on to third safely. Johnson fell to fourth.

Denny Hamlin moved his No. 11 Sports Clips Toyota quickly, he was in fifth by the time he reached Lap 65. He was determined to bring  the Cale Yarborough car to victory lane. Hamlin honored the Hall of Fame driver with a 1979 look alike paint scheme. (Read about the paint scheme here: Hamlin honors Yarborough.)

Danica Patrick started in 38th  and hung around in the back all night. She stayed in the top 30s where it was safe - a smart move because as a relative newcomer it’s important to focus on driving and to concentrate. She needs to learn how race on the track that’s Too Tough To Tame, and to build her skills. She was able to keep her car out of the danger zone during the race and finished 31st, six laps down.

Gordon got a flat tire on Lap 193, and a second caution for debris was thrown out by Lap 195.  The race was rather uneventful in the first half, but it was at this point when the action started to unfold.  

Hamlin found the lead for the second time during the caution because he didn’t stop to pit.

Right after the restart Kahne took the lead, he cleared Hamlin by five car lengths and held on to lead the next 31 laps, thus proving Kahne's season keeps getting better. 

Gordon’s tough season continued; he had to pull back in for a second pit stop for another flat tire. He was heard telling his crew on the radio, “Something broke guys.”

The fourth caution flag flew on Lap 299 because Bobby Labonte in car No. 47 spun out.

Caution five was out not long after the fourth because defending Southern 500 winner, Regan Smith, spun out in turn four.

Following the caution for Smith's spin, Biffle fell to third and was fighting hard for second, while Johnson fought hard with the No. 18 for the top position.

Truex was another mover, one that was almost a threat, Hamlin later commented that he thought the 56 was  the one to beat.

Smoke's No. 14 was another dominating car. In Tony Stewart’s career, there are only two tracks he has not won a race at. Those tracks are Darlington and Kentucky. Saturday he was determined to change that, and fought hard. He moved to fourth by Lap 205.

The sixth caution was caused by an accident by AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray. After the restart Smoke and Hamlin battled for third.

Logano fell behind and hit the wall, not so hard as to cause a caution, just enough to get a stripe. The contact with the wall did ruin his chance at a weekend sweep.

Johnson had to go into “eco” mode to save fuel. He also needed to worry about Stewart who finally moved to second position and drove hard.

In the end, Hamlin moved to second and Smoke had to settle for a third place finish. Johnson took the checkered flag, earning Hendrick Motorsports the 200th win and solidifying a place in history.

After the race, Johnson commented on saving fuel saying, "I was nervous, definitely nervous," then continued "We just had a really fast race car. I could try to save fuel going down the straightaway by not using a lot of  gas, not using a lot of brake and just fly through the corner. The car handled so well it allowed me to save more fuel."

Genevieve is a freelance writer with a day job in child care. All pictures in this post are her own, for photography is her new hobby. You can follow Genevieve on twitter at @C_Genevieve. 


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