For the majority of Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Jimmie Johnson drove like a legend as a non-title contender and down to his final 10 races as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series competitor. Despite recording top-five runs in both stages and having a car to contend for a possible victory, contact with fellow competitor Denny Hamlin and being shuffled towards the middle of the pack in the closing laps left the seven-time champion and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet team with an 18th-place run in the final running order.
Starting in 22nd place while sporting a special blue, white, red and black scheme to his No. 48 Chevrolet and paying tribute to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt (two of three seven-time champions in NASCAR), Johnson wasted no time making his way to the front. Five laps into the event, Johnson was scored in 15th place and he continued to march towards the front. Following the competition caution on Lap 25 and the ensuing restart past the Lap 30 mark, Johnson made his way into the top 10. Battling teammates and Playoff contenders William Byron and Alex Bowman for position (both of whom sported special Jimmie Johnson throwback schemes), Johnson was scored in the top five by Lap 60. Following a caution past the Lap 80 mark due to debris, his pursuit to the front continued on the ensuing restart when he moved up to third place and then passed teammate Chase Elliott for second place on the track. Unable to catch leader Martin Truex Jr., Johnson settled in second place in the first stage on Lap 115.
Following a slow pit stop under the stage break, Johnson was shuffled back to eighth place for the start of the second stage. Nonetheless, when the racing resumed under green, he methodically worked his way back towards the front. Racing as high as third place in the stage when he cycled through a green flag pit stop and gained a handful of track position, he settled in fifth place when the second stage concluded on Lap 230.
Starting in eighth place for the final stage, Johnson raced as high as fourth place before he dropped and settled inside the top 10. His race, however, went away with less than 50 laps remaining and during a cycle of green flag pit stops. After completing his stop and cycling his way back on the track, he made contact with Denny Hamlin, who struggled and missed the pit road entrance. The incident dropped Johnson and his No. 48 team back within the top 20. Trying to charge his way back towards the front, he ended up getting shuffled back to 18th place when the checkered flag flew.
In the end, Johnson emerged as the second highest-finishing non-title contender on the track in his 24th and final run at Darlington, a track where he won three times during his 19-year career run in NASCAR.
Johnson, along with his fellow competitors, will return for the next Cup event at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.