Jimmie Johnson needs a win, and for part of Sunday he looked like he was going to get it. The seven-time champion came into Darlington riding a 99-race winless streak in what he has said will be his last full NASCAR Cup season.
Thanks to a random draw Johnson started eighth in NASCAR’s first race back after the season was postponed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was soon inside the top 5 and as the first stage was coming to an end took the lead on lap 80. He would lead the next 9 laps and had the top spot on the final lap of the stage and looked in position to grab his first stage win of the season and only his third since the stages were implemented when disaster struck.
But, exiting turn two and heading onto the backstretch Johnson tried to go under the slower car of Chris Buescher. The two got together and Johnson’s Chevy was sent nose-first into the inside wall.
“I don’t want one single person to get down,” Johnson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels said on the team radio pointing out that the team arrived with a strong car that led laps. “We’ve got a great race car, so don’t you get down.”
Johnson’s day was done, and he was scored 37th, and that’s where he will start when NASCAR returns to Darlington Wednesday night.
“Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” Johnson said. “Coming to the end of the stage, I was just trying to make sure I got a good run off of turn two. I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side-by-side with him, things just went horribly wrong there. What a great car, I feel terrible for my team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m very thankful for Ally and all of their support. We have great race cars and things are coming in the right direction, just unfortunate that things didn’t really turn out there off of turn two.”
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron won the stage, but his hopes for a win came to an end a few laps after the green came back out when a loose wheel sent his Chevy into the wall.