Despite being a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, sometimes Jimmie Johnson is criticized for having a personality that is somewhat “vanilla.” But tuti-fruti seemed to be more of the order of the day when he pulled into victory lane following his win of the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks on Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Johnson climbed out of his car in victory lane, donning a multi-colored wig to promote the newest Madagascar movie.
“It was a team effort,” Johnson said.
Honestly, I was a little to distracted by the multi-color fro to catch much else he said.
His natural brown or rainbow curls aside, Johnson dominated at Dover, leading 289 laps of the 400 that made up the race, including the final 76.
But it was his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who was thought to have the car to beat. But where did the car to beat finish? 13th.
“I think that 24 was the car to beat,” Johnson said in victory lane.
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the explanation:
While Johnson started on the front row, took the lead on lap one and kept his No. 48 at or near the front all race long, Gordon started 14th. He worked his way toward the front to join HMS teammates, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the top-three on lap 105.
Gordon didn’t stop there. He temproarily took the lead from Johnson around lap 215, but after a pit stop during a debris cuation on lap 226, Gordon felt that something was wrong with his No. 24 car. He made an unscheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 251, just after losing the lead to Johnson. The culprit — a loose left rear wheel.
That disadvantage looked later like it was going to turn into an advantage when the rest of the field cycled through green-flag stops around lap 291. Having somewhat recently made a stop, Gordon stayed out and inherited the lead. With everyone still needing to make one more stop, Gordon’s team decided to split the final 150 laps of the race into two 75 lap segments.
The plan started out fine, with Gordon making what he thought would be his final stop with 75 laps to go and expecting the rest of the field to cycle through stops several laps later, helping him to, again, inherit the lead. The yellow flag wasn’t his friend, though, as a caution came out after his stop with 75 laps to go, before everyone else would have to pit again under green.
That caution caught Gordon a lap down, so he took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap and then pitted again when another caution came out a few laps later. But the laps were winding down, and there wasn’t enough time left to recover.
“We can not affort to make mistakes,” Gordon said. “We had the best car today, but it was unfortunate. We put ourselves in this position.”
While Gordon wasn’t able to make up for a pit road snafu, Kevin Harvick was. After making his way into the top-three, Harvick overshot his pit stall during the same lap 226 caution that resulted in Gordon’s loose wheel. As a result of the miscue, Harvick went from third to 18th for the restart.
Since Harvick’s issue didn’t result in the loss of a lap, he was able to recover in plenty of time to get back toward the front for a second-place finish.
“To be able to make up that track position says a lot about how far we’ve comem with the cars,” Harvick said.
As for several of the rest of the drivers who started the race, they were involved in the biggest wreck of the season so far on lap nine. Thirteen cars were collected, including the No. 14 of reigning series champion Tony Stewart, The No. 78 of Regan Smith and the No. 83 of Landon Cassill.
“I got into the back of the No. 14 and started the whole thing,” Smith said. I take full blame for that. Somehow, they got checked up in front of me, and I didn’t have time to get slowed up with it.”
While Smith accepted blame for the incident, Stewart didn’t hold him responsible.
“The No. 83 was trying to get back down to the bottom and we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t Regan’s fault. He was right behind us, and he didn’t have anywhere to go, either.”
Drivers who avoided significant trouble to post top-10 finishes include Matt Kenseth in third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth, Clint Bowyer in fifth, Aric Almirola in sixth, Martin Truex Jr. in seventh, Joey Logano in eighth, Kasey Kahne in ninth and Marcos Ambrose to round out the top-10.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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