On restart after restart after restart, Jimmie Johnson fired away from the rest of the field, and he finally outlasted all of the cautions – yes, cautions – to win Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway.
The victory is Johnson’s second of the season and continues the recent resurgence of Hendrick Motorsports, which struggled to post team owner Rick Hendrick’s 200th career victory before Johnson scored at Darlington Raceway last month.
Johnson won Sunday in unusual circumstances. After several races this season in which wrecks were absent and cautions were few, Sunday’s 400-lapper had both, including a 12-car tangle that halted the race after only nine laps. A red flag period of almost 20 minutes was needed to clear the track.
Johnson fought his way through it all to dominate the race and was able to hang on to the lead through numerous restarts.
Johnson, who led 289 of the 400 laps, including the final 76, won the race by 2.55 seconds over Kevin Harvick. Completing the top five were Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Jeff Gordon, whose season has been a mishmash of bad luck, had some more Sunday, but it wasn’t a total disaster. In fact, a loose wheel on lap 251 sent Gordon to the pits – and also into victory contention.
The pit stop put Gordon out of sequence with the other leaders and eventually left him with the possibility of using one less pit stop in the closing miles. That benefit disappeared with a caution on lap 339 (of 400), but Gordon took the wave-around option to sit in 18th position when green-flag racing returned. When Kurt Busch’s engine blew immediately, causing another caution, Gordon was able to pit and get new tires for the next green-flag run.
He rallied to finish 13th.
The race field was scrambled only nine laps into the event when turn-two contact between Tony Stewart and Landon Cassill sparked a 12-car smashup – the biggest of the season to date. Cars and parts were scattered across the start of the backstretch, and NASCAR threw a red flag to make track cleanup easier and quicker.
Also involved in the crash were David Gilliland, Casey Mears, Stephen Leicht, Michael McDowell, Regan Smith, Reed Sorenson, Dave Blaney, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Speed and Travis Kvapil.
For Stewart, who has hit a valley as he tries to repeat last year’s championship, it was the beginning of the end of what he called a “crappy weekend”. After garage-area repairs, he returned to the track but took a hit in points.
Also on the downside in the point department Sunday was Carl Edwards, who entered the race in 10th (the final Chase points qualifying spot) but dropped out of the top 10 after slamming the turn-two wall on lap 164.
The middle portion of the race was dominated by Johnson and Gordon, with their teammate, Earnhardt Jr., cruising along in fourth behind fellow Chevrolet driver Harvick.
The Chevrolets got a boost halfway through the race when Kyle Busch rolled into the garage with apparent engine problems.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.