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Team Lowe’s Racing Wins at Darlington

 

DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 21, 2004) – Taking full advantage of a lightning-fast pit stop by his Team Lowe’s Racing crew, Jimmie Johnson took the lead late in Sunday’s NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event and never looked back en route to victory at Darlington Raceway.

“I can’t believe I’ve won Darlington,” said Johnson, who started 11th in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.  “This is unbelievable.  This has always been a goal of mine to win at Darlington.

“We’ve always had a great car and been very close.  And then to do it today with the great car that we had is awesome.  We had great teamwork.  We had a great car on short runs.  The pit stops made the difference and got us the lead and got us the win.”

Johnson credited his Team Lowe’s Racing pit crew, whose quick work during the event’s final round of stops put the No. 48 Chevy in the lead coming off pit road, just inches in front of Bobby Labonte, who finished second.

“It was show time and they really stepped up to the plate and they hit a home run,” Johnson said.  “That’s what this team is so good at.  When the money’s on the line, they really shine.”

The victory vaulted Johnson from ninth to sixth in the NEXTEL Cup standings, with three top-five finishes in five races.  It was the seventh win of his career on the circuit and the 10th for Hendrick Motorsports at Darlington.

Two-time Cup Series champion Terry Labonte, who won at the 1.366-mile oval in August, finished 19th after starting 26th in the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevy.

Labonte is now 21st in the driver standings, just 107 points behind 10th-place Elliott Sadler and a mere 214 back of leader Matt Kenseth.

After qualifying 28th in the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo, rookie Brian Vickers came in 23rd on Sunday to hold steady at 28th in points.

The 20-year-old is a mere 187 markers out of NASCAR’s Top 10.

Driving the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, four-time champion Jeff Gordon was a victim of unfortunate circumstances when he made contact with the entry of Andy Hillenburg, who had spun in Turn 2 on Lap 28.

“I’m going to be OK,” Gordon said after visiting Darlington’s infield care center.  “I’m pretty sore right now.

“I was right behind Elliott Sadler going into Turn 1 and I just couldn’t see through the smoke up ahead.  The spotter said to go low, but by that time I was already committed to the outside lane.

“When the smoke cleared, Andy Hillenburg was sitting right in front of me.  I tried to slow the car down, but I just got right into him.

“When cars spin here or wrecks happen, it’s hard to stay out of them at Darlington.”

Gordon finished a disappointing 41st after starting ninth and slid to 13th in the standings.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit the half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for the Food City 500.  Broadcast live of FOX and PRN Radio, the race is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET start on Sunday, March 28.

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