Johnson makes history with 10th Dover win

DOVER — Even when he doesn’t dominate, Jimmie Johnson still wins at the Monster Mile.

Johnson led the final 23 laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 presented by Autism speaks at Dover International Speedway on Sunday for his 10th career victory at the speedway.

Johnson became only the fifth driver with double-digit wins at a single track. He joined Richard Petty (Daytona, Richmond, Rockingham, Martinsville, and North Wilkesboro), Darrell Waltrip (Bristol, North Wilkesboro and Martinsville), David Pearson (Darlington) and Dale Earnhardt Sr. (Talladega) in that select club.

Johnson, the winningest driver at Dover, took the lead when he elected to stay out on 50-lap old tires during a series of late cautions. He and Kevin Harvick, who ended up second, were the only two lead-lap cars who did not pit under one of the final yellow flags.

Johnson used a strong restart to go to the front of the pack on Lap No. 383 and held off challenges from Harvick, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. at various points as the race went five laps passed the scheduled distance due to a green-white-checker finish.

“I don’t know if (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was being a car salesman or what but he told me that guys on two hadn’t been very successful,” Johnson said. “I wanted to believe him so I believed him on that one and we fired off well. We got going and the guys on four didn’t get through and the guys on two didn’t go anywhere. I thought, ‘Damn, he didn’t lie to me, we’re going to be in good shape.’ … Once I had the race track to myself, we were in control then.”

It was by far the fewest number of laps led by Johnson during one of his wins at Dover. The previous low was when he led 134 laps during his victory in the 2005 Spring race.

By comparison, he led 272 a year ago when he won this same race and 243 during his victory in the Fall of 2013.

“It was so difficult to pass in the top-five,” Johnson said. “I was encouraged because we were all very close and I could see the leader in most scenarios and the second through fourth were right there. … It really took creative strategy on pit road and fast pit stops to get the passing done inside the top-five. That’s really what set us up for the win.”

Truex Jr. led the most laps with 131, but took two tires on his final pit stop and wasn’t able to go by Kahne to give Johnson a challenge for the lead. Denny Hamlin dominated the early portion of the race, but was spun out by Clint Bowyer racing for fifth place with 13 laps left.

Bowyer and Hamlin were the first two cars who took four tires on a caution that came out with 23 laps to go. Hamlin settled for 21st despite leading 118 laps and Bowyer finished ninth.

On the last two restarts, Kahne and Harvick were able to pull along the outside of Johnson in the first two turns before Johnson was able to pull away.

“This is a good race track for them,” Harvick said. “They had everything lined up for them and had a good car and were able to make it happen there at the end on a restart.”

Harvick led 91 laps. He still tops the point standings and has nine top-two finishes on the season.

Larson earned his best finish of the season by coming in third. He was the best finishing car who was on four fresh tires at the end.

“I knew it would be tough to have a shot at Jimmie,” Larson said. “I knew Kevin was on older tires than I was. I was hoping to get a good run on him as we took off and maybe I could time it and get to his outside as we got into (turn) one. But he had a good start and he almost go to Jimmie’s outside there so I was pretty surprised about that. It was going to be tough to get either of them.”

Kahne was fourth and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five. Truex Jr. dropped to sixth getting caught behind Kahne on the green-white-checker restart.

There was a piece of history that Johnson missed out on.

He is stuck on 2,999 laps led at Dover. Whenever he leads one more he will become the seventh driver to lead 3,000 laps at the same track.

Johnson has won four times this season — already matching last year’s total. The win was the 74th of his career, leaving him two behind Earnhardt Sr. for seventh on NASCAR’s all-time list.

“It’s right there in front of me so I look at it and think, ‘Wow, this is incredible, what an opportunity,’” Johnson said. “Yes, it’s a priority for me, it’s something I want to do, but I’m almost in shock that we’re there. Seventy-four race wins? Ten here? You can’t dream that big.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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