Driving away from Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth after a restart with 31 laps left in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson made short work of his NASCAR Sprint Cup rivals.
Johnson, who led 289 of the 400 laps, picked up his second victory of the season (in addition to a win in the May 19 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race) and his second victory in the last three points races. Hendrick drivers have now won four straight races, including the All-Star event.
The victory was the 57th of Johnson’s career, eighth most all-time. His seventh win at Dover tied Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most ever at the high-banked, one-mile concrete track.
Harvick came home second, 2.550 seconds behind Johnson. Kenseth ran third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer. Greg Biffle retained his series lead by one point over Kenseth with an 11th-place finish.
Johnson said afterward that leading the most laps doesn’t guarantee success, but on Sunday, he need not have worried.
“When you lead the most laps, sometimes at the end — the way the cautions fall — it can backfire on the dominant car,” said Johnson, who for his post-race press conference sported a multi-colored wig matching the Madagascar 3 paint scheme on his No. 48 Chevrolet.
“The way the cautions fell today, it allowed us to really flex our muscle and bring home the win. I’m proud of the effort. It was a brand new race car we brought to the track. We pulled it off the truck and it was awesome all weekend long.”
Harvick recovered from a mistake on pit road to claim the runner-up spot. The driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet overshot his pit stall under caution on Lap 227 and had to be pushed into the box by his crew. The miscue dropped Harvick from third to 18th for a restart on Lap 232.
“The car was good enough to be able to drive back through the pack, and for whatever reason, we were able to adjust our car well today when we needed to and we were able to keep up with the racetrack and keep our car better through the day,” Harvick said.
“And I think that was a big key to getting through the traffic and putting ourselves back in position to at least have a chance.”
Even though Johnson won handily, however, his No. 48 Chevrolet may not have been the fastest car. The No. 24 of teammate Jeff Gordon was at least its equal, but Gordon had to pit on Lap 250 because of a loose wheel.
Gordon returned to pit road for his final stop on Lap 325 and was in position to challenge for the win until an untimely debris caution on Lap 339 trapped him a lap down temporarily and mired him deep in the field after he regained the lost lap on a wave-around. Gordon finished 13th.
Those who have decried the recent lack of caution flags in Sprint Cup races got more than their fill on Lap 9, when contact between Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet and Landon Cassill’s No. 83 Toyota triggered a 12-car pileup off Turn 2.
Regan Smith ducked to the inside and tried to power past Stewart but couldn’t clear the No. 14. Nine other cars stacked up behind Cassill, Stewart and Smith, blocking the track and necessitating a stoppage of 19 minutes, 54 seconds while track workers cleaned up the mess.
Smith blamed himself for the wreck, but Stewart was magnanimous in relieving the driver of the No. 78 Chevy of responsibility.
“I got into the back of the No. 14 and started the whole thing,” Smith said. “I’ll take full blame for that. Somehow they got checked up in front of me. I just didn’t have time to get slowed up with it. I hate that there are so many wrecked race cars here. It’s not fun for anybody.”
Stewart’s take on the accident was quite different.
“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. Just not a real good deal at the beginning of the race like this.”
Stewart returned to the track on lap 74 and finished 25th, one position better than that of Carl Edwards, who blew a tire and slammed into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 164. Down 80 laps when he returned to the track after repairs, Edwards dropped from 10th to 12th in the Cup standings.
Notes: Mark Martin finished 14th, marking the 30th straight Cup event in which the pole-sitter has failed to win. . . . Johnson’s victory broke a string of eight straight different Cup winners this season. . . . Earnhardt gained one position to third in the standings, 10 points behind Biffle. . . . The engine in Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota expired after 202 laps. He finished 29th.