Jimmie Johnson held off Hendrick Chevrolet teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to claim a record-breaking eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup win at Dover’s “Monster Mile.”
Johnson drove an awesome final stint. At the last stop his crew changed just two tires while Earnhardt’s swapped all four. It seemed to work for Earnhardt as he leapt straight into second at the restart, but despite his best efforts Earnhardt could not get close enough to make a pass stick.
“Two (tires) worked good for us in practice,” Johnson said. “And believe me, I wanted to see four tires line up in the fourth or fifth row. When they lined up right behind me, I thought I was going to have my hands full. And I really did. Junior drove a whale of a race, and track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off.”
Earnhardt lost the race lead during a green-flag pit stop on lap 119 after missing the entrance to pit road on the previous lap. The snafu cost Earnhardt seven positions and 13 seconds on the track. Earnhardt conceded that the issues on pit road may have changed the outcome of the race.
“Yeah, if you really look at the race as a whole, they did cost us a little bit, at least the mistake I made missing pit road completely,” he said. “We had the lead, gave up the lead. Jimmie had the lead and was able to take advantage of that clean air when it counted.
“If I had not given up that track position, had a smart enough race to keep the lead when it counted right at the end, we might have won the race. It would have been hard to get by us, just like it was (hard) to get by Jimmie.
“I think missing the commitment cone was a big factor in us not finishing one spot ahead of where we are. But the other pit stop wasn’t that big a deal. I came on pit road about as hard as I could. The 14, Mark, was running maybe five, 10 miles an hour slow in the first couple of (pit road timing) segments. I don’t know that cost us a ton of time.”
The race boiled down to a fight between the Hendrick Motorsport and Joe Gibbs Racing superteams. Hendrick racer Jeff Gordon led a lap during the pit stops and looked to be in a strong place before the final caution neutralized the race. A slow restart dropped him to fourth, which is where he finished.
On the Gibbs side, both Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch ran up front, but the decision to change just two tires on points leader Kenseth’s car in the final stop backfired. It was the weakest the car had been all day, and he slipped down the order, losing sixth to Kevin Harvick on the last lap. In contrast, Busch was on the move on his four fresh Goodyears, battling his way to fifth over the final run.
After a quiet day, Joey Logano used his four fresh tires to slot into third during the run to the flag. It was a miserable race for his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who suffered a fluid leak and finished 37th.
Of the 13 Chasers, it was a terrible race for Carl Edwards. His Ford Fusion was never a top-five runner, but a top 15 finish was lost when the left rear hub broke. A 35th-place finish all but ends his title hopes.
Kurt Busch pitted his Furniture Row Chevy off-sequence to have a loose wheel examined. He fought back to finish 21st. Kasey Kahne had a down-on-power motor in the closing stages, which limited him to 13th.
Chasers made up the entire top 10 in a race where not a single crash occurred.
Results - 400 laps:Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +0.446s 3. Joey Logano Penske Ford +2.871s 4. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +3.876s 5. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +4.838s 6. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet +7.347s 7. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +7.689s 8. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +8.620s 9. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +9.531s10. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +9.885s11. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +10.111s12. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +10.986s13. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +1 lap14. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet +1 lap15. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota +1 lap16. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +2 laps17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +2 laps18. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +2 laps19. Mark Martin Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +3 laps20. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +3 laps21. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet +3 laps22. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +3 laps23. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +3 laps24. Casey Mears Germain Ford +5 laps25. David Ragan Front Row Ford +5 laps26. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Toyota +5 laps27. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota +6 laps28. David Reutimann BK Toyota +6 laps29. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6 laps30. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +7 laps31. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota +8 laps32. Ryan Truex Phoenix Chevrolet +8 laps33. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet +8 laps34. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet +10 laps35. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford +15 laps36. Timmy Hill FAS Lane Ford +19 lapsRetirements: Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 355 laps Landon Cassill Circle Sport Chevrolet 275 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 168 laps Tony Raines Hillman Chevrolet 154 laps Reed Sorenson Leavine Ford 139 laps Josh Wise Front Row Ford 128 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 107 laps