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Jimmie Johnson crashes out of lead in Stage 1’s final lap at Darlington

Jimmie Johnson’s early hopes for a bounceback victory in NASCAR’s first race back after a two-month break ended with a heavy crash in the final lap of Stage 1 at Darlington Raceway.

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Johnson had taken the lead in the 81st of 293 laps, putting his No. 48 Chevrolet ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman. Johnson was nearing a stage victory when his car broke loose as he tried to place Chris Buescher down a lap; his No. 48 entry then veered to the inside wall, sustaining heavy front-end damage.

“Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” Johnson said after being checked and released at the infield care center. “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. What a great car, I feel terrible for my team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. 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.”

VIDEO: Heartbreak for Johnson

Johnson apologized to his crew over the two-way radio. Crew chief Cliff Daniels told his team to hold its head high after contending early and leading nine laps: “I don’t want one single person to get down. We’ve got a great race car, so don’t you get down.”

Johnson’s mishap handed the stage win to Hendrick teammate William Byron.

RELATED: Byron scores Stage 1 win at Darlington

Johnson, a three-time Darlington winner, had his winless streak stretch to 100 races — the longest dry spell of his career.