Johnson Plays the Monster on the Monster Mile
Four-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson wheeled to his sixth victory of the season and third in his last four Dover International Speedway races on Sept. 26.
The Hendrick Motorsports superstar rebounded from last week's 25th-place New Hampshire Motor Speedway finish that left him sixth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with a monster Dover performance. He started from the pole position and led a race-high 191 of 400 race laps before guiding his No. 48 car across the finish line 2.637 seconds ahead of Richard Childress Racing veteran Jeff Burton in the No. 31 machine.
Johnson led the race four times and held point for the final 35 circuits around the one-mile concrete Dover oval. He is tied for the series lead in victories and owns 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes through 28 events this season. He moves to second in the Chase standings and is 35 points behind Hamlin, who retained the top spot with a ninth-place Dover finish.
"It feels great. Last week didn't turn out how we wanted, but that's racing and it's going to happen in the Chase. There's a huge weight off my shoulders that we were able to win a race in the Chase and rebound. We're in the middle of this thing and I'm excited about what we have ahead. I know Talladega is out there and we have to be there (in the Chase standings) after Talladega. That's the goal. We did the best thing possible. I'm very, very excited about today," Johnson said.
Hamlin, who also owns six victories this season, banked his 13th top-10 finish of the season on a track where he averaged a 21st-place finish in 10 career starts. He placed fourth during the series first tangle with the Monster Mile this season on May 16, but averaged a 35th-place finish in his five previous Sprint Cup visits to the track.
He holds largest point lead following the second Chase race in the seven-year history of the championship format.
"It was a decent day. We didn't have the best car, but we fought and made something out of it. This is what we needed to do to get by this weekend and we feel like we can run with them from here on out. This was a huge obstacle for us. This track has bitten us in the Chase for the last four years, so to get out of here with the points lead is good for us," Hamlin said.
Burton climbed from ninth to seventh in the Chase standings with his sixth top-five and 14th top-10 finish of the season. He trails Hamlin by 80 points. "The 48 was the class of the field today. We could put some pressure on them, we could match them, but that wasn't good enough. It's been one of those years where we've been really good and haven't been able to capitalize, but we have eight more chances and hopefully we can start pulling it a little bit straighter," Burton said.
Joey Logano, a three-time Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Nationwide Series race winner, charted his second-best finish of the season with a third-place Dover effort. He set a new single-season career-high with his fourth top-five finish of the season and ran his season top-10 finish total to 11.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver placed 35th last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and has scored two top-five finishes in his past three starts.
"We started toward the back and battled all day, just playing around with the car - a little tight here, a little loose there. Our car was good all day. I don't know if it was good enough to win, but I felt like we were close. It's a good run for us, we still have to work on our consistency. We have to figure out how we can do this week in and week out," he said.
Penske Racing's Kurt Busch took fourth at Dover and Roush Fenway Racing competitor Carl Edwards completed the top five. Overall, six Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors finished in the Dover top 10.
The Chase standings following the race are: Leader: Hamlin (5,368 pts.); 2. Johnson (-35 pts.); 3. Kyle Busch (-45); 4. Kurt Busch (-59); 5. Kevin Harvick (-65); 6. Edwards (-73); 7. Burton (-80); 8. Jeff Gordon (-83); 9. Greg Biffle (-140); 10. Tony Stewart (-162); 11. Matt Kenseth (-165); 12.Clint Bowyer (-235).
The series will visit Kansas Speedway Oct. 3. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m., on ESPN, Motor Racing Network radio and Sirius XM 128.
Story by Mike Schmaltz