Setting a track record and moving up in the points standings were all in a day’s work for Jimmie Johnson at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday. Johnson led a race-high 243 laps in the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track en route to his eighth-career Dover win, breaking a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and and Bobby Allison for all-time wins at DIS. The win also moved Johnson past Kyle Busch to second in the championship points standings, eight points behind leader Matt Kenseth. Busch finished fifth on Sunday and Kenseth seventh.
“We came to a good track, and we got what we needed to get done,” Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second to give Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish. Jeff Gordon also finished in the top-five, finishing fourth, to give HMS three cars in the top-five of the final rundown. Joey Logano finished third.
Earnhardt dominated the first quarter of the race, leading 76 laps before having trouble getting on pit road during a cycle of green-flag pit stops that began on lap 111. As a result, he was back in eighth after the entire race field cycled through stops.
“I take full responsibility for being a little too eager to get on pit road,” Earnhardt said. “Messed up getting on pit road, for sure.”
For awhile, Johnson, Kenseth and Busch, who just happen to be the top-three drivers in the points standings, held down the top-three of the running order until Earnhardt recovered from his pit road snafu to move into second on a restart following a lap-226 caution. About 40 laps later, Gordon moved into third to give Hendrick the top-three spots.
After a second green-flag cycle of pit stops, Johnson was back up front, with Kenseth in second and Gordon in third. With teams making those stops between laps 308 and 315, drivers were just outside the window of being able to go the rest of the 400-lap distance on the fuel they had. Gordon was among the few who went into fuel conservation mode, planning to gamble and go the rest of the way without making one final stop for a splash of gas.
“I was saving most of that run and had that strategy down, for sure,” Gordon said.
That strategy was aborted with one final caution for debris on lap 369. Everyone headed down pit road for at least two tires. Johnson, Gordon and Kenseth each took two, while others, including Earnhardt and Logano, opted for four.
On the final restart, Gordon and Kenseth fell back on their two older tires, while Earnhardt moved into second and Logano to third. Johnson, though, was able to hold his ground up front.
“Two worked good for us in practice,” Johnson said. Track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him (Earnhardt) off.”
Other top-10 finishers included Kevin Harvick in sixth, Ryan Newman in eighth, Greg Biffle in ninth and Clint Bowyer rounding out the top-10.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR