CONCORD, N.C. – There are few traditions in the NASCAR Cup Series that rival that of the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend in Darlington, South Carolina.
In 1950, Darlington Raceway hosted the sport’s top division for the first time. The race distance of 500 miles was part of the draw itself. Back then, it didn’t seem like normal road cars could last for such an incredible distance. In all, 75 drivers (yes, 75) took to the banked oval for the first-ever Southern 500. Ever since, the race has been one of the crown jewel events in stock car racing and one of the most coveted victories in the sport's history.
Joining the Cup Series ranks in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports has won this prestigious event 12 times. Take a look back at each victorious driver’s legacy at Darlington Raceway (in order by number of Southern 500 victories).
Tim Richmond: 1986
The 1986 season was a stellar year for Tim Richmond and his first with Hendrick Motorsports. Eight pole positions and seven victories resulted in a third-place finish in the points standings. One of the crowning achievements of the year came at Darlington’s famous Southern 500. After taking the top spot in qualifying, Richmond piloted his No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports entry to victory lane after leading 168 of the 367 laps. It was the first victory in Darlington’s 500-mile race for owner Rick Hendrick.
Terry Labonte: 2003
In what would be his 22nd and final victory in the Cup Series, Terry Labonte claimed the 2003 Southern 500. The win gave him Southern 500 wins as both the first and last of his career. After a clutch late-race pit stop that put the No. 5 entry in front for the final 33 laps, "The Iceman" drove off to victory in front of a packed house in South Carolina.
Mark Martin: 2009
After two years of part-time competition in 2007 and 2008 with other teams, Mark Martin returned to a full-time ride with Rick Hendrick’s organization in 2009 and put up stellar numbers. The campaign included five race victories and a runner-up finish in the standings. Among the wins was a second Southern 500 triumph of his career. Despite several late-race caution flags, Martin was able to pull away from the field and earn the crown jewel victory over teammate Jimmie Johnson. Atop the box was current crew chief for the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team, Alan Gustafson.
Kyle Larson: 2023
Larson had come close to winning at Darlington in the Cup Series but had yet to get to victory lane. He had two runner-up finishes in the Southern 500 and had led over 100 laps on three occasions. In 2023, the Elk Grove, California, native finally broke through at "The Lady in Black," thanks to clutch work by his pit crew to put him in position to lead the final 55 laps of the 367-circuit event. The victory would be the 500th national series win for the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop.
Jimmie Johnson: 2004 and 2012
Johnson and the No. 48 team earned two victories at the South Carolina track for Hendrick Motorsports. In 2004, the driver from El Cajon, California, native won the spring race at Darlington before going on to win the 500-mile event to sweep the season at the 1.366-mile track. Eight years after this win, Johnson would again find victory lane in the Southern 500, this time marking the milestone 200th win for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Jeff Gordon: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2007
Gordon’s six victories in the Southern 500 are the most in the event’s history. From 1995-1998, the famed rainbow warrior crew took home the checkered flag in each event. The interesting part? Gordon did not lead the most laps in any of the four events. Rather, as the race drew to a close, the driver of the No. 24 entry found ways to get the most out of his race car and be there in the final stages of the race. In the 1997 event, he became the second driver to take home the "Winston Million." The current vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports would return to victory lane in the historic race twice more in his career, winning in the 2002 and 2007 editions of the Southern 500.