Jimmie Johnson fires back to win Dover race
DOVER, Del. - The Monster Mile does not play favorites. Kyle Busch found that out Saturday, when he paced the field on 241 of a possible 400 laps in a NASCAR doubleheader here, yet came away with nothing but heartache because of late-race tire troubles.
DOVER, Del. - The Monster Mile does not play favorites.
Kyle Busch found that out Saturday, when he paced the field on 241 of a possible 400 laps in a NASCAR doubleheader here, yet came away with nothing but heartache because of late-race tire troubles.
Yesterday, it appeared to be Jimmie Johnson's turn to learn the lesson that domination does not necessarily equal victory at Dover International Speedway.
Although his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was clearly the class of the field, leading 298 of the 400 laps, Johnson was mired in ninth place after a pit-stop miscue with less than 34 miles remaining.
That merely set the stage for the Sprint Cup Series' three-time defending champion to show his mettle.
Maneuvering through traffic, Johnson ultimately thrust himself into a three-man, 10-lap dash to the finish, overtaking Greg Biffle and dispatching Tony Stewart with a daring drive high around the concrete one-mile oval to win the Autism Speaks 400.
The announced crowd of 100,000 had a chance to exhale when Johnson's blue-and-silver Impala SS headed to Victory Lane to celebrate his fourth Dover victory and the 42d win of his career.
"We had an awesome, awesome race car, and at the end I just had to go," Johnson said. "My hat's off to Tony [Stewart] - that's how racing's supposed to be. To be able to run that hard and pass that many cars . . . I was running so high through the corners that I thought I was going to slam the wall a couple of times."
With 16 laps to go, Johnson sliced between the lapped cars of Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. at the foot of the packed front-stretch grandstand. What followed was a scintillating duel with Stewart in which the duo nearly touched several times while alternating lanes through the sweeping corners.
"It was fun racing with Jimmie like that, and there's no shame finishing second to the fastest car," Stewart said.
"I did everything I could to take his line away, but I just couldn't do it long enough. Jimmie was like a freight train coming. His car got bigger and bigger [in the rearview mirror] in every corner."
Despite having to settle for second, Stewart had reason to celebrate, becoming the first driver/owner in NASCAR's top series to lead the point standings since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
"We're excited about having the points lead, and I'm proud of our entire organization," Stewart said of the first-year Stewart-Haas Racing team.
Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, carried the series lead into the race but capped a frustrating weekend by finishing two laps down in 26th place and falling 46 points behind Stewart.
"We got ourselves behind on Friday when I hit the wall" during qualifying, Gordon said. "We made one adjustment to make the car better, and we went backward, and when we got two laps down, our day was done."
The real focus of the weekend was on another Hendrick Motorsports driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. came under the microscope after his cousin, Tony Eury Jr., was replaced as crew chief on the No. 88 Chevrolet by Lance McGrew.
While he was disappointed to finish 12th after running as high as third, Earnhardt said, "I've told my boys, 'We're building Rome here, and it might take a while to get it finished, but if everybody works hard, we'll get it done right.' "
McGrew sounded optimistic because the team was able to climb a spot in the standings to 18th.
"We fell off a little in the center of the race, and I'm not 100 percent sure why," he said. "But we rebounded and came home with a decent finish, and we had fantastic communication all day."
The Sprint Cup Series continues its swing through the region with a visit to Pocono Raceway for Sunday's Pocono 500.