CONCORD, N.C. (May 29, 2005) – Jimmie Johnson was there when it counted.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver became the first driver in NASCAR history to score three consecutive wins in the Memorial Day weekend 600-miler at Lowe’s Motor Speedway after a dramatic last-lap pass of Bobby Labonte on Sunday night.
It was Johnson’s seventh finish of seventh or better in eight races at the 1.5-mile facility.
With Kyle Busch winning his second consecutive May NASCAR Busch Series race at LMS and Johnson taking last October’s Cup date, Hendrick teams have won five points-paying events in a row at the track. Johnson and Fred Lorenzen are now the only Cup drivers to win three straight times there.
“We have so many employees and our shop is a mile from here,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, who has a record 12 of his 135 Cup victories at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. “Charlotte is home. I want to win this race. I’ve always wanted to win this race.
“With the competition like it is today, to think we could win three (Cup races) in a row or win two Busch races back-to-back like that—you’ve got to be prepared, but you never think you’re really going to get to do it. But these races rank right up there with the biggest of our career.”
It was the second win for Team Lowe’s Racing, now leading the NEXTEL Cup championship standings by 71 points, and the fifth for Hendrick Motorsports in a season just 12 races old.
The finish was one of the tightest in NASCAR history—27 one-thousandths of a second—and the race one of the longest: five hours, 13 minutes, 52 seconds. But coming to the checkered flag, Johnson knew his closest competitor would race him cleanly.
“He came to Victory Lane and congratulated us,” Johnson said of Labonte, the Cup champion in 2000. “And I have to just say that I respect him so much and then to see him come to Victory Lane and shake my hand and shake the team’s hand, and tell us, ‘Good job,’ that tells us a lot about him and what kind of character he has.”
It was redemption for Johnson, who came in second to Carl Edwards in a similar fashion at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this season.
“That’s what you dream of. That’s the way you want to win races,” Johnson said.
The night held much promise for each of the five Hendrick Motorsports entries. All spent time atop the leader board, including Brian Vickers, who paced the field five times for a race-high 98 laps, and Busch, who followed his Saturday-night Busch Series performance by leading 54 circuits.
Busch, though, finished 25th after engine trouble, but still was named Raybestos Rookie of the Race in his No. 5 CARQUEST Chevy. He now leads the rookie standings by 22 points over Travis Kvapil.
Jeff Gordon, who started from the outside pole position in a No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo, was 30th overall. He was followed by Vickers’ No. 25 GMAC/ditech.com Chevrolet in 31st. Both were involved in an accident on Lap 380.
Driving his familiar No. 44 Kellogg’s Chevy, two-time champion Terry Labonte started his fifth race of the season and quickly moved toward the front. He eventually led Laps 123-139 before falling victim to one of the event’s record-setting 22 yellow flags.
Credited with a 38th-place result, Labonte was taken to the infield care center and transported to a local hospital as a precaution. He was quickly released with a bruised foot after X-rays were clean.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday, June 5 for the 13th of 36 races in 2005. Scheduled for a 1:35 p.m. ET green flag, the 400-lap event will be broadcast live by FX and MRN Radio.