With seven wins at the track, Jimmie Johnson is used to being out in front at Dover.
This time it cost him.
Johnson's drive for a record eighth win on the mile concrete track ended when NASCAR penalized him Sunday for jumping leader Juan Pablo Montoya off the restart with 19 laps left.
Johnson finished 17th in a race won by Tony Stewart. Montoya finished second.
"There's always a judgment call in pro sports," Johnson said. "Our sport doesn't have many opportunities for that. Today, it did, and the call didn't go my way."
Johnson protested over the radio that he didn't deserve the penalty and stayed on the track asking for a review. Johnson finally followed the order to head to the pits and serve a pass-through penalty.
NASCAR states that the race leader (Montoya) has to be the first car across the starting line. Johnson got a huge jump on Montoya and refused to give up his position.
Montoya also had the responsibility to speed up and be in the lead once the cars leave the restart zone. Johnson said Montoya wasn't driving fast enough.
"I'm running half throttle down the front stretch waiting for him, waiting for him and he doesn't come," Johnson said. "My vision is so limited inside the car. I'm really a sitting duck. They decided to call me on it. I totally disagree with the call, but it is what it is."
Johnson led 143 of the 400 laps in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
NASCAR said it was an easy call.
"He left early and he didn't give it back like we tell them all the time when that type of thing comes up," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "It's pretty cut and dried. You can look at the films and the restart zone and where the start was."
Montoya said he knew Johnson was trying to jump the start. Montoya backed off for the rest of the field to line up.
"It was one of those deals that when you time it too good, it actually hurts you," Montoya said.
Johnson wasn't hurt in the standings. He's still in first place and holds a 30-point lead over Carl Edwards in the standings.
"You never want to lose, especially when you have a chance to win," Johnson said. "We could've made history today, so that stings a little more."
Stewart, who snapped a 30-race winless streak, said he felt bad for Johnson.
"He didn't deserve to be in that situation at the end," he said. "At the same time, he knows what the rules are. He knows that the leader has to cross the start-finish line first. He knows that. It's not for me to say whether it's right or wrong."