Jimmie Johnson was a little over a half a lap from winning the first stage at Darlington Raceway when things “went horribly wrong.”
Leading the Real Heroes 400, Johnson surged off Turn 2 on Lap 89 and got to the inside of Chris Buescher. With Buescher squeezed against the wall, Johnson’s hit Buescher in the left rear, promptly lost control of his Chevrolet, and crashed into the inside wall on the backstretch.
The No. 48 suffered irreparable damage with a crushed nose and leaking fluid and had to be towed to the garage. Johnson was cleared from the infield care center while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron wound up with the stage win.
“Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back, to do it over again,” said Johnson. “Coming to the end of the stage, I was just trying to make sure I got a good run off of Turn 2. I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side-by-side with him; things just went horribly wrong there.”
Johnson started from the eighth position by way of a random draw. He spent much of the first stage running inside the top five, challenging polesitter Brad Keselowski for the race lead at one point and eventually taking it from teammate Alex Bowman. Johnson led a total of nine laps.
After the accident, crew chief Cliff Daniels radioed his team that they should not be down on themselves. Daniels praised Johnson’s performance and the car that was prepared by the No. 48 team.
“And guess what?” said Daniels. “We’ll be back in two days.”
As NASCAR works through a revised season schedule, Darlington will hold a second Cup Series race on Wednesday evening.
“What a great car — I feel terrible for my team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Johnson. “I’m very thankful for Ally and all of their support. We have great race cars, and things are coming in the right direction, just unfortunate that things didn’t really turn out there off of Turn 2.”
Johnson has been winless since June of 2017.