DOVER, Del. - The finish of last September's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway was superb. Greg Biffle passed teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead with nine laps remaining.
The homestretch of yesterday's Autism Speaks 400 at Dover was even better. When you have three racers jockeying for the lead at about 180 mph with 10 laps to go, it's highlight-film material.
Jimmie Johnson emerged from the gripping late-race drama as the winner. Johnson, the three-time reigning Cup series champion, gained his second victory of the season and 42nd of his career. He edged Tony Stewart by 0.861 of a second.
"That's how racing's supposed to be done," Johnson said during the victory lane celebration.
"It was fun racing with Jimmie," Stewart said. "He definitely had the fastest car. He was like a freight train coming."
Stewart's runner-up finish elevated him into the Cup points lead. Jeff Gordon, the displaced leader, is now 46 points behind Stewart.
Gordon crashed during qualifying on Friday and had to start next-to-last yesterday. He finished 26th, two laps down.
Stewart becomes the first owner-driver to lead the points since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Stewart, a two-time Cup titlist, is in his first year as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
On the final restart, with 27 laps remaining, Johnson was eighth following an uncharacteristic pit-stop issue. Biffle and Stewart were running one-two. Six laps later, Johnson was third. Clear the track, here comes the Johnson freight train . . .
"Every corner, his car got bigger and bigger [in the rearview mirror]," Stewart said. "That's never a good sign from a [leading] driver's standpoint."
On lap 392 of the 400-lap race, Stewart took the lead with Johnson second. On lap 398, Johnson steered his silver-and-black No. 48 Chevrolet slightly ahead of Stewart's red No. 14 Chevy on the backstretch of the 1-mile concrete capital of Delaware oval.
As they exited Turn 4, Johnson surged into the lead. Race over.
In collecting his fourth career win at Dover, Johnson led 298 total laps as he moved to third in the points standings.
Asked what his chances of winning were after the final restart, Johnson said, "I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew I had a great race car. There were some laps left and it was just time to go, and I got it done."
Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief for the three consecutive championships, wasn't sure what happened to the final pit stop. Knaus plans to study tapes of the pit stop.
"The thing I'm probably proudest of," Knaus said, "is the fact that our car actually responded to the adjustments we were making. A lot of times with the cars that we run now they don't respond."
Shortly after a certain Philadelphia auto racing writer scribbled "no major wrecks" in his notebook late in the race, David Stremme crashed on lap 371, creating the race's 10th and final caution.
Stremme's Dodge appeared to be tapped by Mark Martin's Chevy just out of Turn 4. The rear of Stremme's car smacked the pit road wall, then the car slid up the track and hit the outer wall on the driver's side. Only some masterful driving by pole-sitter David Reutimann avoided a dangerous head-on collision.
A big "atta boy" to Reutimann. *
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