89 laps into The Real Heroes 400 Sunday (May 17), Jimmie Johnson was headed for just the third stage win of his career. The No. 48 led the way toward the green-and-white checkered flag at Darlington Raceway.
He couldn’t finish the job.
A win turned into a nightmare, a shower of sparks for Johnson as he crashed on the backstretch of the final lap. Making contact with Chris Buescher off turn 2, the No. 48 spun from the lead and hit the inside wall hard.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 17, 2020
It ended a promising day for the leader of Hendrick Motorsports. After a random drawing determined he would start eighth, Johnson had taken the lead on lap 82 of the Real Heroes 400, in position to win NASCAR’s first race since the coronavirus pandemic. But the seven-time series champion, in the midst of a nearly three-year winless streak, couldn’t finish the job and simply misjudged his position on track.
“Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” Johnson said in an interview. “Coming to the end of the stage, just trying to get a good run off turn 2. Things just went horribly wrong there.
“What a great car,” he added. “We have great race cars and things are going in the right direction. Just unfortunate.”
Johnson’s only two stage wins came at Sonoma in 2017 and Pocono in 2018. He hadn’t run inside the top 10 at Darlington since 2014 but was in position to do much better.
“I don’t want one single person to get down,” Johnson crew chief Cliff Daniels said to his team after the incident. “We’ve got a great race car, so don’t you get down.”
"What I would do to get that corner back to do it over again."- Jimmie Johnson after his Darlington crash pic.twitter.com/S0TaXYdcXd
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 17, 2020
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates had also been running well, with Alex Bowman leading for several laps before fading. William Byron and Chase Elliott were also running inside the top 10, Byron taking the lead after Johnson’s misfortune and winning the stage.
But they couldn’t hang on. Shortly after Johnson’s incident, Elliott got nabbed for speeding on pit road. Then, after the stage two restart, Byron wrecked, the victim of a loose wheel.
Johnson will return to the track on Wednesday, May 20, for the Cup Series’ second race at Darlington at 7:30 p.m. ET.
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) May 17, 2020
The Associated Press pool report contributed to this story.