Johnson’s latest monster moment: Grabs OT thriller for record 11th Dover NASCAR win

DOVER — Jimmie Johnson, who has become the definitive master at finding his way to victory lane at Dover International Speedway, keeps finding new ways to add to his legacy.

On this particular sun-baked Sunday afternoon, it was a thrilling overtime victory for a Dover-record 11th triumph as cars in his rear-view mirror were involved in a sheet-metal crunching crash – check.

Johnson rocketed past Kyle Larson on a green, white, checkered flag restart in overtime and then cruised to the win as the checkered flag and caution flag waved simultaneously on the 48th annual AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy Series race.

It was Johnson’s 83rd-career Cup Series victory, which tied him with his childhood hero and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list.

Johnson actually honored Yarborough with a tribute to him on his race helmet.

Jimmy Johnson celebrates in victory lane after winning the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We had a fast car,” said Johnson, who only led seven laps during the event. “We had to overcome quite a bit of adversity throughout the day but we still had a great car.

“Honestly, it all came down to that (last) restart. I was able to get the power to the ground. I knew it was going to be extremely tricky on those old, hot, worn-out tires and I just got a better restart and that’s the way it turned out.”

Jimmy Johnson does a burnout after winning the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Pete Hinson)

It appeared as if Larson had Johnson right where he wanted him on the overtime restart.

However, he spun his tires momentarily while approaching the green flag, which gave Johnson the advantage he needed as he powered into the lead on the inside lane.

Jimmy Johnson in the Lowe’s #48 car wins The 48th Annual AAA 400 Drive for Autism Race in overtime that was held on Sunday June 4th at Dover International Speedway in Dover.
(Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

Johnson held the lead down the backstretch and into the third turn when the caution flag waved for the multi-car crash that effectively ended the race.

“He did what he had to do to get the best launch that he did,” Larson said, of Johnson. “We were both playing games and he just took off better than I did.

“I wasn’t really complaining about the restart. He did a good job. He’s a seven-time champion for a reason. The golden horseshoe is somewhere (on Johnson) and he is really good at executing, so I just have to get better at that.”

Jimmy Johnson takes the lead past Kyle Larson on a Green/White restart on the last lap of the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Larson finished second despite leading a race-high six times for 241 laps.

Martin Truex Jr. endured a similar fate and came in third after pacing the field three times for 102 laps and winning both the first and second 120-lap stages.

“We had a good day and a good car,” Truex said. “I don’t know that we had the best car, but we had a good car for sure. The 42 (Larson) and 48 (Johnson), it seemed like we were all so close that it seemed like whoever got out front was the best.

“All in all it was a good day. When you’re disappointed with third it speaks volumes about your team and where you’re at and what’s going on. I had a lot of fun out there.”

Ryan Newman finished fourth and Chase Elliott pulled out a fifth-place finish.

Jimmy Johnson in the Lowe’s #48 car wins The 48th Annual AAA 400 Drive for Autism Race in overtime that was held on Sunday June 4th at Dover International Speedway in Dover.
(Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

Johnson was forced to put his driving abilities to the test on Sunday as his team elected to change the rear gear in his Chevrolet prior to the race.

He had qualified 14th on Friday but was forced to start from the rear of the 39-car field after the gear change. He rose up to 26th place by the eighth lap and was all the way to eighth on lap 54.

Then, as usual, he transformed into a serious contender.

“This is a good one for us and I have always been better at passing people,” Johnson said. “I think our stats from qualifying versus race wins really show that and it’s frustrating.

“We live in an environment where qualifying needs to be a priority and we need better pit stall picks, but if you put that rabbit out in front me then I’ll chase it down. It’s just the way I’ve always been.”

The pace of the race was slowed by 15 caution periods, including two that signified the end of the first and second stages, that comprised a total of 72 laps.

The AAA 400 took three hours, 59 minutes and 27 seconds to complete for an average speed of 104.953 mph.

Kevin Harvick was one of the lucky ones who avoided contact with the walls all day.

“We got lucky and didn’t have any issues,” said Harvick, who finished ninth. “That was the fortunate part because so many other teams did and we didn’t. We kept it clean all day. It was an OK day.”

Larson, who came up just short of Matt Kenseth in last year’s spring race at Dover, chalked his runner-up effort as part of a constant learning experience.

“We were the dominant car all day,” Larson said. “We had a couple of runs where we got off and had some bad tires or something but we were able to rebound from the struggles. We fought hard all race long.

“We just needed it to stay green there at the end. I was a lot better than Jimmie (Johnson) was. He just did a better job than I did on that last restart.”

That, Johnson said, was the reason he was taking the Monster Trophy home.

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