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Fourth at Darlington

Jimmie Johnson did everything he needed to do to keep the “Lady in Black” from wearing emerald stripes in the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS sported special emerald stripes, the color chosen as the 2013 PANTONE® Color of the Year. (The color is featured in the new PANTONE UNIVERSE™ Paint Collection by Valspar.)  

Johnson rolled off from the outside pole position and was never out of the top-10 during the 367-lap event, finishing fourth. It was Johnson’s eighth top-five and 11th top-10 in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.366-mile oval. It was Johnson’s six top-five finish in 11 races this season, allowing him to maintain his lead in the championship points standings.

Five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson experienced a fairly uneventful race at a track notorious for punishing drivers who don’t “race the racetrack.” Crew chief Chad Knaus called for four tires during every pit stop. He worked with Johnson to fix the handling of the Lowe’s Chevy throughout the race, which alternated between loose and tight throughout the night.

As the race wore on, Johnson reported that he was having trouble running the top line on the track. Johnson ran in the third position for most of the race and with 59 laps to go had worked his way into second. Ensuing cautions mixed up the running order in the closing laps. After a pit stop and a restart with 35 laps to go, Johnson lined up eighth. He moved to fifth with seven to go, gaining a spot in the final laps, finishing fourth.

“It was just a great 500 miles here at Darlington,” said Johnson, who has three wins at Darlington (March and November 2004 and May 2012). “There is nothing easy about this racetrack. It keeps you on your toes all night long. We had a great car. We lost a little track position at the end. But we still got back into the top-five, but I kind of ran second and third all night long. Wish I was a little bit better, but this Emerald Green Lowe’s Chevrolet was doing a good job. We had fun (laughs). I love this place. I wish we could race here three or four times a year.”

Matt Kenseth won the Southern 500 to score his 27th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin finished 3.155 seconds behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were five caution periods for 25 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 367-lap race. 

With round 11 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent as well as the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 423 points put him 44 ahead of second-place Carl Edwards. Dale Earnhardt Jr. occupies fourth place with 359 points, 64 out of first. Kasey Kahne is sixth with 326 points, 97 out of first. Jeff Gordon is 12th with 311 points, 112 behind Johnson.

Fifteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday, May 18 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The non-point-paying event begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by SPEED beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m. SPEED’s “RaceDay” begins at 4 p.m. 

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Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin
Ryan Newman
Jimmie Johnson
Started: 8th
Finished: 1st
November 15th, 2015
2:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Kobalt Hot Pass