WIN NO. 200…PRICELESS

Greg Biffle Leads Points Standings

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle led 74 laps en route to a 12th-place finish and holds a two-point lead over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth (photo courtesy: Jeff Zelevansky, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson turned in a dominating performance at the track known as “too tough to tame” to win Race 11 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

The win at Darlington not only put the five-time NASCAR Cup champion back in the winner’s circle, it also earned team owner Rick Hendrick his organization’s 200th career Cup win. Johnson, winless in his previous 16 starts, led six times for 134 laps at Darlington Raceway only to find himself having to survive a pair of late cautions flags that bunched up the field with his fuel tank running low.

The green-white-checkered finish, which extended the race from 367 to 368 laps, saw Johnson pull away quickly from Tony Stewart’s own fuel-starved car, an issue that allowed Denny Hamlin to advance to second in the closing laps. 

"There really was a lot of drama," Johnson said. "In a fuel mileage race, when you see that 14 (Stewart), you always second-guess yourself because he's so good at it. I was really concerned. I was just pacing myself based upon what he was doing and hoped I had saved enough (fuel).

Johnson, the most recent Hendrick driver to take the checkered flag, last won in October of 2011, winning at Kansas Speedway to put him third in points and into title contention. But subsequent stumbles at Charlotte and Talladega took the steam out of his team and Johnson saw his five-year title run come to an end at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

The Darlington victory was career win No. 56 for Johnson, and moved him up three spots in the points standings, to fifth.

The 11th race of the season went 172 laps before the first caution flag, providing long green-flag runs and few battles for the lead. But the yellow flag waved five times in the final 69 laps, and that kept crew chiefs throwing a variety of strategies into the mix—two tires versus four for some, none for others.

Johnson, trailing Kyle Busch following a lap-320 restart, finally stormed past the Joe Gibbs Racing driver on lap 325 to take the lead. It was a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

As for finally securing win No. 200 for his owner?

“My focus ... has been on making sure the 48 does the best job that it can,” Johnson said. “If we’re able to win, we'd hopefully be able to be the guy to get the 200th win. We've been very close, especially through the start of the season. ...

“It was only 16 races. (But) the bar is high for HMS. That's a good problem to have.”

Points leader Greg Biffle led 74 laps on his way to a 12th-place finish and holds a two-point lead over Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Danica Patrick, making her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Darlington, finished 31st, six laps off the pace in only her second career Sprint Cup Series race. Patrick chose to race conservatively, essentially feeling her way around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval that has the reputation of being one of the toughest tracks in the sport.

Patrick qualified 38th, worked her way up to 20th during the first series of pit stops, but by lap 75 had fallen back to 34th place, one lap off the lead lap. By Lap 115, she had fallen to two laps off the lead lap.

“I know I didn't have a great result,” Patrick said. “But, I accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish. Here on the Cup side, my goals were to be respectable out there. I think I held my own alright. And, the other one was to finish, and both of those things happened. So, overall, good night. I will be much less worried coming back to this place.”

NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 17th. The driver of the No. 88 car started 24th and was unable to climb any higher than 17th during the first 100 laps. Earnhardt had complained about his car following Friday's qualifying session. Earnhardt came into Saturday's race with a winless streak of 139 races, and just one win in his last 215 Sprint Cup starts.

On the flip side of his lengthy losing streak, Earnhardt has been among the most consistent drivers on the Cup circuit this season. In 10 starts thus far in 2012, he has four top 5s, four other top 10s, a 14th-place finish and his season low of 15th. In addition, he has remained in the top 5 of the Sprint Cup overall points standings after each of the 10 races.

The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is the All-Star race at Charlotte on Saturday, May 19 (9:00 p.m. ET, SPEED) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
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