CONCORD, N.C. -- On this day in history, two huge events for Hendrick Motorsports played out on the track 17 years apart.
April 28, 2002, marked Jimmie Johnson’s first Cup Series victory. The seven-time champion was in his rookie year and only his 13th start when he won in Fontana, California.
He led four times for 62 laps at his hometown track and crossed the finish line with a 0.62 margin of victory over the second-place driver.
Johnson credited crew chief Chad Knaus for making the call for Johnson to just get fuel and not new tires during the last pit stop. The strategy payed off and Johnson won by several car lengths.
"Coming to see the white flag I got the goosebumps running all over my body," he said after the race. "The cool-down lap was really great to see all those guys giving me the thumbs-up. And then Jeff Gordon came up and started rubbing donuts on the right side of your car. That's when it all started to sink in."
Johnson would say years later that this was the moment he knew he had a NASCAR career.
Exactly 17 years later, Chase Elliott ignited Hendrick Motorsports for its first win of the 2019 season at Talladega Superspeedway. It was Elliott’s fourth career win in the Cup Series and his first at the Alabama track.
He led for 44 laps, including the final four, and was the Stage 2 winner of the race.
The white flag waved for Elliott under caution due to two accidents on the last lap. While that ended up being a lucky break for him, Elliott had been penalized earlier in the race for speeding on pit road. He was sent to the back of the field but rallied and moved his way up to secure the victory.
“What a day,” Elliott said after the race. “We just had a plan and executed it really well. Obviously, could have gone both ways. Fortunately, everybody stayed together and stayed the course. Had some help on that last lap with the caution. … This is unbelievable. This is special. This is close to home for me. Kind of feels like a home race.”
Teammate Alex Bowman also had a day, coming in second behind Elliott. At the time, it was his best career finish. Bowman went on to win his first race of his career later in the season.