Jimmie Johnson scored his first win of the 2014 on May 25th in Charlotte and a week later was celebrating his second with a dominating victory at Dover International Speedway Sunday. The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion led a race high 272 of the 400 laps in route to his 68th career win.
In a race that featured two red flag periods, Johnson led seven times and survived five restarts including the final one with four laps to go. Brad Keselowski started from the pole but faded early and recovered to finish second. Matt Kenseth was third, Clint Bowyer fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth.
“It was an awesome race car,” Johnson said. “The first run I wasn’t sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here. Once the track ‘rubbered’ in our car came to life and it was so good. It’s amazing that we can stay on top of things here with the different generation car, different rules, different tires. This place just fits my style and (crew chief ) Chad Knaus’ style.”
The most bizarre incident of the race, and the season to date, came on lap 155 when Jamie McMurray hit a piece of concrete exiting turn 2 and ended up in the wall. The field was put under the second red flag of the day, the first was for an accident on lap 134 involving Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that left debris scattered along the backstretch that lasted 6 minutes and 39 seconds. For the second one track workers spent 22 minutes repairing the damage left when the concrete came loose from the track.
“Martinsville is the last time I remember something like that happening,” McMurray said. “I really don’t know I guess the race track came up. When I came off Turn 2 I heard a huge boom and then the car felt like it got really tight. I thought I had blown a tire out or something had fallen off the car. As I got going down the straightaway I wasn’t real sure because I was like ‘well the tires feel up now.’ So I just stopped getting into Turn 3 because I didn’t have any idea what was going on.”
Kyle Busch jumped past polesitter Keselowski at the start, but the seventh lap, Busch had a lead of just over a second. By lap 13 Busch had caught the back of the field and started lapping the back markers. The battle was for second through fifth as Joey Logano, Hamlin and Johnson ran nose to tail. On lap 34 the three behind Keselowski began to slip by him as he started to fade.
Keselowski continued to fade and by lap 50 Jeff Gordon was fifth, Logano was second, Johnson third.
The first caution came on lap 65 when Alex Bowman lost a tire and slowed on the track. The leaders came in for the first stops of the day two laps later. Busch won off pit road, Johnson was second, Hamlin third, Kevin Harvick fourth. Hamlin was nailed for speeding, however, and sent to the rear of the field.
The green came on lap 71. Busch wasn’t able to pull ahead like at the start and Johnson held station for a few laps before Busch was able to move ahead. Brian Vickers soon slowed and retired with a blown engine.
Johnson never lost sight of Busch and by lap 80 the two were fighting for the lead. On lap 81 Johnson was able to get by and take over the lead from Busch. A few laps later Busch fell to third behind Harvick. By lap 115, Johnson and Harvick were about a second apart and just over five seconds ahead of third place Busch.
Kyle Busch’s misfortunes took a turn for the worse on lap 124 when he made contact with Bowyer and hit the wall bringing out the second caution. Busch tried to chase down Bowyer during the caution lap to show his displeasure but slowed and went to the garage. The leaders came in for stops with Johnson leading over Harvick; Kenseth came out third.
The restart came on lap 131 with 24 cars on the lead lap. Johnson took off from the outside to the lead. The third caution came out on lap 134 when Biffle and Stenhouse Jr. crashed. The accident was set off when AJ Allmendinger got into Biffle exiting turn 2 sending Biffle sideways in front of Stenhouse Jr. NASCAR brought out the red flag to clean up the large amounts of debris on the backstretch.
The red flag lasted 6 minutes and 39 seconds. The leaders stayed out when the caution came back out and pit road opened. The green came back out on lap 141. Johnson on the outside lane wasn’t able to make it work and Harvick became the third different leader.
The fourth caution of the day came out when Jamie McMurray hit some sort of debris, possibly part of the track, exiting turn 2 and hit the backstretch wall. The leaders came in for stops. The top five took only two tires with Harvick leading off pit road. Kenseth was second, Hamlin third, Gordon fourth and Kyle Larson fifth. Johnson was the first to take four tires and restarted sixth. The field only rolled under caution for a couple of laps before NASCAR again displayed the red flag to repair a hole in the concrete exiting turn 2.
Track crew scrambled to fill the hole and after a 22 minute red flag the caution waved and the field began rolling again. The green came out on lap 185 with Harvick quickly moving to the lead. A lap later though, Harvick slowed dramatically with a flat right front tire handing the lead to Kenseth with Hamlin in second, Johnson moved into third. By lap 177 Johnson had passed Hamlin and a lap later had caught Kenseth and retook the lead. Gordon moved up to second on lap 196.
Bowman brought out the fifth caution on lap 222 when he hit the wall entering turn 1 just after losing a tire. The leaders came in for stops. Johnson led off pit road with Gordon second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, Kenseth fourth and Kasey Kahne fifth. The green came out on lap 228 and Johnson shot to the front. Second through fourth were all fighting for spots behind.
JJ Yeley lost an engine on lap 240 bringing out the sixth caution. The leaders pitted again with most taking only two tires. Johnson led out, Gordon was second, Earnhardt third, Kenseth fourth and Paul Menard fifth.
The green came out on lap 246 and Johnson again shot to the lead. Kenseth took second from Gordon. By lap 257 Keselowski had made it back into the top five; Johnson’s lead up front was almost 2.5 seconds.
Keselowski passed Kenseth , who had fallen back to third several laps prior, on lap 299. He was still six second back from the top two. Harvick was forced to stop for fuel on lap 303 and fell three laps down. Kahne who had been fifth a few laps before, was in 19th and was passed to lose a lap on lap 310.
Green flag pit stops began for the back markers on lap 317. The top five began coming in on lap 321. Gordon came in on lap 323; Johnson followed a lap later. After the cycle of stops, Johnson had nearly a five second lead over Keselowski who had beaten Gordon out.
Gordon began to fade and soon was in fifth behind Tony Stewart in third and Kenseth in fourth.
The seventh caution came out on lap 361 for debris on the backstretch. The caution brought the leaders to pit road and eliminated the possibility of a fuel mileage gamble. Clint Bowyer took only two tires and lead out of the pits. Johnson was second and the first among the leaders with four tires. Kenseth was third, Stewart fourth and Keselowski fifth.
The restart came with 34 laps to go. Bowyer tried to hold on to the lead, but Johnson was able to get by and was soon well in front aided in part to the battle for the second through fourth spots. Gordon began to report troubles with his Chevy and started to slow.
With 20 to go, Johnson’s lead was nearly 1.5 seconds over second place Kenseth. With 10 to go, his lead was just over 2 seconds. Behind Johnson Keselowski caught and passed Kenseth just as the ninth caution waved for debris with 7 laps to go. The top seven stayed out while those on the lead lap behind came in.
The restart came with four laps to go. Johnson went to the lead, closely followed by Keselowski. Johnson was able to stretch out his lead though and it was smooth sailing for Johnson who went on to his 68th career victory and his ninth at Dover in 25 starts.
“The car was really strong the second half of the race,” Keselowski said. “My guys made great adjustments on it and we drove up to second there. We were pretty equal to Jimmie there but never got a crack at him. I would have liked a shot. It was a decent day for us finishing second and that is something to be proud of, but we want one spot more.”
The win marks the 13th time in his career that Johnson has won back-to-back races.
“The first run or two I didn’t think we were in a dominant position,” Johnson said. “But towards the end of the first run thing started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape. Even with some varying track strategies and I lost track position we were still able to smoke our way through traffic and get to the front and control things. I think we would have had a heck of a race with the No. 4. I’m not sure what trouble he had, but outside of that I think we had everybody covered.”
Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, Stewart seventh, Logano eighth, Earnhardt Jr. ninth and Paul Menard tenth.
Kenseth takes over the points lead from Jeff Gordon who faded to finish 15th Sunday, Edwards, who finished 14th moves up to third, Johnson moves to fourth and Earnhardt Jr. remains in fifth.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond Pa., for next Sunday’s Pocono 400.