Johnson bounces back with Top-10 in Toyota 500 at Darlington

Photo by Harold Hinson / Harold Hinson Photography

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

Just four days after Jimmie Johnson crashed from the lead in The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, he rebounded with a top-10 finish in the Toyota 500.

Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE showed the same speed Wednesday that it had in Sunday’s race. Although the Seven-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion did not earn any stage points, he broke into the top-10 late in the race.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver battled with Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, and Joey Logano throughout the final stage. While Johnson’s Hendrick teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman contended for the victory, the No. 48 was mired at the tail-end of the top-10. The final pit stop sequence and ensuing caution and restart ultimately kept the El Cajon, CA native further back.

After Clint Bowyer spun in turn three, Johnson, along with most of the field pitted for fresh tires. Denny Hamlin and DiBenedetto remained on track with no fresh tires left.

Johnson made quick work of the Wood Brothers Racing driver after he fell back on the restart. Before he could make further moves, a race ending caution waved when Elliott crashed prior to a passing rain shower. NASCAR called the race after a brief red flag with Johnson in eighth.

“It was a solid night for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet,” explained Johnson. “We had to start in the back because of the crash during the first race. Things were looking pretty good early, we were able to march up through there. But the competition caution, and just so many cautions honestly, affected our strategy and affected us being able to take advantage of our strong racecar and move forward.
“Finally, in the middle of the race, we got some longer runs in and were able to move forward. We were in a nice position and then we were caught a lap down when the caution came out when the 42 car spun from his flat tire. So, we had to start all over again.
“On that last restart, I think I was 14th and, fortunately, I was in the outside line, which was the place to be, and we worked our way up to 8th before the caution happened and the rain came.”
“It was a good rebound from a few days before; I wish I could have that weekend back. I really felt like we had things going our way there and could have capitalized. But it’s nice to be back. Good finish in the top-10 and looking forward to going to Charlotte.”

The eighth-place finish came after Johnson started 37th. With no practice or qualifying at Darlington due to NASCAR’s COVID-19 pandemic policies, the top-20 from Sunday were inverted. Johnson finished 38th after a crash at the end of the first stage four days ago. He started 37th with one car from Sunday not entered.

The top-10 is Johnson’s third this season. He remains 12th in the points standings, 32-points ahead of the playoff cutoff, held by teammate William Byron. Johnson is 97-points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

The NASCAR Cup Series is back in action on Sunday, May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600.

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