Published September 29, 2013
| Sports Network
Dover, DE – Jimmie Johnson has now conquered the "Monster Mile" more so than any other driver.
Johnson won at Dover International Speedway for a record eighth time after holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr., his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in the closing laps of Sunday's AAA 400. He had been a tie with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for most victories at this one-mile, concrete-surfaced racetrack with seven each.
"It's incredible," Johnson said. "To do anything that Bobby or Richard did is quite an accomplishment. We've had a few (races) sneak away from us here too. I'm just so happy to get that done."
With the victory, Johnson trimmed Matt Kenseth's lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings to eight points. Kenseth finished seventh after winning the first two Chase races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire. He was attempting to become the first driver to win the first three races in the playoffs.
Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion, put on a dominating performance by leading 243 of 400 laps, including the final 29. The fourth and final caution for debris with 30 laps to go set up the last round of pit stops. Earnhardt took four new tires, while Johnson received just two tires and came back out as the leader. Earnhardt dropped to fourth.
After the last restart with 26 laps left, Earnhardt quickly charged to second but could not catch Johnson at the end.
"Two (tires) worked good for us in practice, but believe me, I wanted to see four tires," Johnson said. "Junior drove a whale of a race. But track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off."
Johnson claimed his fifth victory of the season and the 65th of his Sprint Cup career. His record of Chase wins has now extended to 23.
The winner of the Chase race at Dover has gone on to capture the series championship in three of the last four years. Johnson did it in 2009 and '10. Brad Keselowski did so last year.
Earnhardt started on the pole and led a total of 80 laps. He has not won a race since June 2012 at Michigan (48 races ago).
"A little disappointed we didn't pull off the win," said Earnhardt, who finished 0.446 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot. "Felt like we had the perfect strategy. Had maybe the best car, arguably the best car, today. With those four tires, I thought we could get it done. We left everybody in the mirror. We were clicking off some laps, but just not fast enough to get to Jimmie."
Earnhardt bounced back from a pit-road blunder in the early going. He came towards the entrance of pit road too fast and overshot the commitment line, forcing him to make another lap around before making his stop. With 90 laps to go, Earnhardt got caught up in traffic with Mark Martin while driving into the pits, which cost him more track position.
"I think missing the commitment cone was a big factor in us not finishing one spot ahead of where we are," he said. "But the other pit stop wasn't that big a deal. I came on pit road about as hard as I could. The 14 (Martin) was running maybe 5, 10 miles an hour slow in the first couple segments. I don't know if that cost us a ton of time."
Joey Logano finished third, while Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Busch moved to within 12 points of Kenseth. He began the Chase with second- place finishes at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.
"That's three straight top-fives to start the Chase, so it's certainly appealing," Busch said.
Kenseth led 36 laps in the early in the race but faded within the last 50 laps.
"Once we took two tires and lost our track position there at the end, I knew we were going to drop back, so it was disappointing to run in the top-three or four all day and then finish seventh," Kenseth said.
Kevin Harvick placed sixth. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer were eighth through 10th, respectively. The top-10 finishers are all in the Chase field.
Carl Edwards took the biggest hit in the Chase standings after his 35th-place finish. Edwards experienced a mechanical issue and spent 15 laps in the garage for repairs. He dropped from fourth to 11th in points (-65).
The other Chase drivers and their finishing positions include: Kasey Kahne (13th) and Kurt Busch (21st).
Kansas (Oct. 6) is the next stop in the Chase. Kenseth is the defending race winner there.