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Johnson leads 289 laps, wins at Dover

Jimmie Johnson equals Dover win mark of NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Jun. 03, 2012

It’s official: Jimmie Johnson races at Dover International Speedway as well as anybody in NASCAR history.

Johnson turned in a dominant performance Sunday in the FedEx 400 Sprint Cup race, winning at the track for the seventh time in his career. Johnson is now tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the all-time victories mark at Dover.

“I’ve never been one to pay much attention to stats,” said Johnson, whose stats happen to include five consecutive Sprint Cup titles from 2006-10. “And, truthfully, I didn’t think I was a guy who would ever build up a lot of stats. But here I am with seven wins here and in that very elite company.”

Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet led 289 laps of the 400-lap race and he picked up the maximum 48 championship points. He remains fifth in the Cup standings, but picked up 15 points on leader Greg Biffle, who finished 11th.

Kevin Harvick was second and Matt Kenseth finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was fourth.

Biffle, who started seventh, was never a factor and saw his margin over Kenseth shrink to one point. Earnhardt moved up to third in the standings, passing Denny Hamlin, and is 10 behind Biffle.

It was the third victory in the past four weeks for Johnson, who also won at Darlington on May 12 and the following weekend at the non-points Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte.

Johnson was never really challenged late after taking the lead from hard-luck Jeff Gordon on Lap 325, maintaining his lead by excelling on three late restarts.

The race got off to a rocky start when 12 cars were involved in an accident on Lap 9. It began when Tony Stewart tapped Landon Cassill coming out of Turn 2. Regan Smith then couldn’t avoid Stewart and cars continued to pile up behind those three, stopping the race for 19 minutes, 54 seconds.

When the race got going again, Johnson began to establish himself. But he was soon no match for Gordon, who took the lead on Lap 211 and stayed there for much of the middle portion of the race.

Then things started to sour – again – for Gordon, who has been followed by bad fortune all season. Despite having a competitive car much of the time, he has yet to win and entered the race 22nd in points, well out of contention for a spot in the Chase.

This time, a loose left-rear wheel cost Gordon. He pitted under green on Lap 250 to get it fixed and take on four tires. Despite retaking the lead for from laps 298-324, a series of late cautions doomed him – especially one for debris on Lap 341 in which the other leaders were also able to get new tires.

“I don’t know what happened, but we definitely had a loose left-rear,” said Gordon. “It didn’t go on right to begin with and the left-rear tire changer knew that. Ultimately, we put ourselves in this position to get this finish. That’s very frustrating.”

Said Johnson: “The middle part of the race when he got by me and drove away, that’s all I had. Without a doubt, he had us covered.”

That caution, and two more that followed late in the race, might have provided hope for drivers like Earnhardt and Kenseth, who had to rely on them to stay close to Johnson. But neither driver could compete on the crucial restarts with Johnson, who chose the outside lane each time.

“It’s not necessarily which lane you’re in,” said Kenseth. “It’s just the leader dictates when you go, and you can’t go until he does. He was really good at that. By the time you recognize that and try to get going, he’s already pulling away from you.”

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