Jimmie Johnson held off Dale Earnhardt Jr on Sunday in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway to win for a record eighth time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Monster Mile. He moved ahead of Richard Petty and Bobby Allison who both had seven wins at Dover.
The win is the fifth of 2013 and 65th of Johnson's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team took two tires on the final pit stop to keep track position and held off Dale Earnhardt Jr who took four tires on the final stop.
"Track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off," Johnson said in victory lane.
Dale Earnhardt Jr had to settle for second after starting on the pole and having issues on two green flag pit stops that cost him time on the track.
Earnhardt Jr showed the way early in Chase race number three with a lead over points leader Matt Kenseth. Carl Edwards was third followed by Ryan Newman, and Brad Keselowski on lap 20 of 400. He ran up onto lap traffic which slowed his pace and allowed Matt Kenseth to take the lead on lap 26. Dale Jr then took the lead back from Kenseth on lap 31.
The first of only four cautions came out on lap 37 for debris. Five drivers took two tires to gain track position. They were Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr, and Juan Pablo Montoya who restarted on lap 43 in the top four spots. Dale Earnhardt Jr was fifth with four tires and Clint Bowyer was sixth with two tires.
By lap 70 Kyle Busch still led but it was Ryan Newman who was up to second from tenth on the restart. Earnhardt Jr was third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Jamie McMurray fifth. On lap 71 Ryan Newman took the lead and Dale Earnhardt Jr took second as Busch began to fade.
On lap 76 Dale Jr put his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet back out in front with a pass on Newman. Jimmie Johnson moved to second on lap 92 by passing Newman.
A round of green flag pit stops began on lap 110 with the running order of Earnhardt Jr, Johnson, Kenseth, Newman, and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr made a costly mistake on lap 117 when he tried to pit for his green flag stop. He carried too much speed through Turns 3 and 4 and was unable to make pit road. Johnson meanwhile pitted on the same lap without issue. Earnhardt Jr pitted on lap 118 and then Jeff Gordon on lap 119. When things settled out after all the stops Jimmie Johnson was in the lead over Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, and Clint Bowyer. Dale Earnhardt Jr had fallen to eighth place because of missing pit road.
On lap 159 Kurt Busch pitted under green for a loose wheel. His Furniture Row Racing team brought in Brian Scott's Nationwide Series pit crew for the race but the issues for Busch on pit stops continued just like with his normal crew. He dropped two laps down at the time and never could recover as he finished 21st.
Jimmie Johnson held a 3.7 second lead over Kenseth on lap 160. The second caution came out on lap 166 for debris. Under the pit stops Matt Kenseth beat Jimmie Johnson off pit road with Ryan Newman third, Dale Earnhardt Jr fourth and Joey Logano fifth.
The race restarted on lap 171 with Kenseth taking off in the lead. Johnson ran him down though and on lap 198 passed Kenseth for the lead. At the halfway lap Johnson led over Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Ryan Newman.
While running in 12th on lap 226 Brad Keselowski experienced an issue with the rear of his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford and he pulled to the garage. NASCAR threw the third caution of the race on lap 227 due to liquid on the track from Keselowski's car. He would return to the race but finished in 37th. The top five of Johnson, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Jr, and Bowyer stayed the same after four tire stops for the lap 236 restart.
By lap 250 Johnson led but it was Earnhardt Jr up to second and looking strong again. Kyle Busch was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth. On lap 264 both Kenseth and Gordon passed Busch and on lap 265 Gordon moved into third past Kenseth. At lap 300 the running order was Johnson, Earnhardt Jr, Gordon, Kenseth, and Joey Logano.
Green flag pit stops started on lap 307 as Dale Jr was pressuring Johnson for the lead. On lap 311 Johnson hit pit road and the Earnhardt Jr came on lap 313. Junior was slow to pit road being caught behind Mark Martin and also not wanting to miss pit road like on the last green flag stop. Gordon pitted on lap 314 and Clint Bowyer was the final car to pit on lap 315. After the stops the running order was Johnson, Kenseth, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr, and Kyle Busch. Earnhardt was over six seconds behind after being right with Johnson when the stops started.
It became a fuel mileage race with drivers that pitted earlier like Johnson, Kenseth, and Earnhardt Jr not thinking they could make it without more fuel and others like Jeff Gordon and Clint Boywer feeling like they could make the finish without stopping again.
All that went out the window when the fourth caution came out on lap 369 for debris. Jimmie Johnson's team led by Chad Knaus decided for two tires to keep the track position and Jeff Gordon also went with two along with Matt Kenseth. They would restart on lap 374 in the top three spots but the drivers with four tires restarted right behind them. Dale Earnhardt Jr was fourth, Kyle Busch fifth, and Joey Logano sixth.
Dale Jr and Joey Logano got great restarts on the high side and moved up to second and third but Johnson still held the lead. It looked like Earnhardt Jr would be able to run down Johnson to win his first race with Hendrick Motorsports at a track other than Michigan but Johnson showed why he is the best driver at Dover.
On lap 376 Carl Edwards went to the garage with a hub issue and would return to the track but finish in 35th. Kasey Kahne began to slow on lap 390 with an apparent engine issue but nursed it home to a 13th place finish as the first car one lap down.
Johnson never let Dale Jr close on him and took the checkered flag of the AAA 400. He led 243 of the 400 laps. Earnhardt Jr was second, Joey Logano third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Kyle Busch fifth. Kevin Harvick moved up to sixth and Matt Kenseth dropped to finish seventh. Ryan Newman was eighth, Greg Biffle ninth, Clint Bowyer tenth, Jamie McMurray 11th, and Brian Vickers was the final lead lap car in 12th. For the first time ever in Chase history the top ten finishers were all Chase competitors.
Other notables in the finishing order were Martin Truex Jr in 15th, Mark Martin 19th, Denny Hamlin 20th, and Danica Patrick 29th.
Matt Kenseth holds the points lead still but Jimmie Johnson moved up to second and is only eight points back with seven races remaining in the Chase. Kyle Busch dropped to third but gained two points on Kenseth and is now 12 points back. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are both 39 points back in fourth and fifth. Greg Biffle is 41 back in sixth, Ryan Newman 48 back in seventh, Clint Bowyer 51 back in eighth, Kurt Busch 55 back in ninth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr 57 back in tenth. Carl Edwards took the biggest hit at Dover and is now 11th 65 points back. Joey Logano is 66 points back in 12th and Kasey Kahne is 78 back in 13th.
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