Jimmie Johnson salvaged a ninth place finish in Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500 in his #48 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet despite a near disaster when the casing of his left rear tyre came adrift shortly after his final scheduled pitstop.

Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson became the first Raybestos Rookie contender to lead a lap at the Darlington Raceway in 2002 when he led 17 tours of the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.

However come the race's end Johnson was thankful for just a top ten finish when his left rear tyre simply came apart less than half a lap after he made his sixth pitstop of the day on lap 302 of the 367-lap event.

"When they dropped the jack I was taking off and they were going for the last lug nut," said Johnson of the stop, which occurred under green flag conditions. "When the gun went in, the tire was rotating and the valve cord caught the gun. It just ripped the valve cord out of the tire, right out of the wheel, I guess."

As Johnson worked his way back up to speed in turn two on his out lap, the #48 machine suddenly slewed sideways coming onto the back straight as the tyre casing came away and Johnson was lucky to keep the car off the outside wall.

"I found out when I got on the backstretch when I was trying to accelerate," Johnson added on his discovery of the problem. "I thought I had punctured it driving around on the apron but it ended up being the valve cord knocked out of it.

"When it came apart, luckily, I had made my way onto the straightaway when it came apart. And then we were real lucky to stay under the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and make it back to the start finish line and stay on the lead lap."

With the skin of the tyre sitting on the racetrack, NASCAR called a caution and Johnson made it back onto pit road to change tyres without losing a lap, however he was in 20th position when the green flag flew on lap 306.

Another quick caution period on lap 314 allowed Johnson to put on yet more fresh rubber for the final 45 lap green flag sprint to the chequered flag and as Johnson discovered, the decision to pit again was a good one as he sliced up the leader board and held off Jeff Burton in the closing laps.

Although Johnson lost the lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year points to Ryan Newman chase he limited damage in the overall drivers standings and remains fifth overall some 167 points behind current leader Sterling Marlin.

"As soon as we started worrying about points problems happened," added the native Californian who, like his RotY rival now has two top ten finishes in two 2002 starts at the famous 'Lady in Black'. "We were just up front talking. We don't care where the points end up. All you do is loose sleep over it and get frustrated. We're showing up to win races like we did at the beginning of the season and that's what we did this weekend.

"The setup was way out there and we were in good shape there until our little mishap happened. We've been joking we've got our mojo back, we feel."

"It's amazing to me to see how this team can rally back from things. It's just amazing the glue that we have in this team and how much everyone believes in one another. We can also see that on the 24 side. There's just something special inside Hendrick Motorsports, especially inside of our shops. When times are down and when people want to break the team down, these guys don't. They dig deeper and work harder together and come through it all."