13 May 2012
Johnson claims Hendrick's 200th win
That meant the race ended up extending into a green-white-chequered finish, which could have proved a problem for Johnson. But all his fuel-saving antics had given him a sufficient margin of safety, and he put his foot down at the restart and eased away from Tony Stewart - who it turned out was the one with the fuel problems after all, and who found himself unable to hold off a late surge for the runners-up spot by Denny Hamlin.
"The fuel pressure light had went down, or the light was blinking when we got the one to go," explained Stewart. "So I had to go down to the apron. It caught on the backstretch. But then we got past the centre of three and four and the light was down to 20 pounds again. It laid down all the way down the front stretch and we lost second because of it."
Stewart had also been suffering from clutch problems during the final third of the race, he revealed. "I broke the clutch with about 85 to go," he confirmed. "Our guys did an awesome job of getting us out of the pits. It didn't affect us on restarts; it just affected us on the pit stops." In the circumstances, holding onto third is a very positive outcome for the Cup champion.
Kyle Busch wasn't much of a threat in that last phase of the race either: “We were just so loose at the end of the race,” he said. “Those late race restarts were terrible ... The track doesn't have any grip.
"All you do is spin the tires, and on the last restart, I tried to give Stewart a little bit of room because he was low on fuel pressure so I wouldn't run over him in case his car shut out," he continued. "I gave him too much room and kind of hurt myself a little bit. I probably gave the #11 a spot. Glad I didn't give another one away to the #56, but we were able to come home fourth."
At least the #11 was his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin, who hung on to second place but had no chance of reaching Jimmie Johnson in the remaining seconds of the race. The Hendrick pits exploded with relief as the magic 200th victory finally materialised for them, and there was no one happier than Johnson himself.
During the final minutes, Rick Hendrick himself had gone pacing up and down pit lane away from the team hauler. Even with 199 wins under his belt, it did nothing to assuage the nerves when it came to number 200.
"I had to get away," Hendrick said. "They said that we were going to make it [on fuel], but I don't believe them!" he admitted, adding: "I'm kind of numb, but I'm glad it's over. I think we're going to win a few more now."
"I think it's phenomenal, especially with the competition over here getting tougher and tougher," said Tony Stewart, himself a relatively new team owner just finding out how difficult it is to run a successful NASCAR Sprint Cup operation. "Especially for it to happen in the Southern 500. It's such a historic race. It's a pretty cool milestone."
The gleam in his eyes said that Stewart had his new life goal - to match the 200th milestone. Hendrick, meanwhile, was already back to work plotting how to get to 250.
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