Johnson Sets Dover Win Record
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 29, 2013 | 5:22 P.M. EST
Johnson’s car proved strongest Sunday, culminating with his record eighth Dover win - breaking a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. (Photo: Getty Images)
DOVER, Del. - This is what you expect your superstars to do. It’s why fans watch LeBron, Peyton and Kobe. They want to see the best perform at their highest level and under pressure.
Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway was a taut match race featuring Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and series leader Matt Kenseth. It’s been that way much of the season. No one has come close to joining this exclusive fraternity, which has accounted for 16 victories in 29 races - including five of the last six.
Johnson’s car proved strongest Sunday, culminating with his record eighth Dover win - breaking a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
“I’m not sure that I’ve done anything that Richard Petty hasn’t,’’ Johnson said.
He also gained 10 points on Kenseth, who finished seventh. Busch placed fifth and trails Kenseth by 12 points. No other driver is less than 39 points behind Kenseth heading this week to Kansas Speedway.
The points Johnson gained matter more than any win total. This marked the first time he’s outscored Kenseth in a race since Watkins Glen in August.
That’s significant. For all the talk Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have done about performance even when not getting the results, here was a case where they ran well and beat Kenseth. And Busch.
“We’re trying to establish a foundation to set ourselves up for the second half of the Chase,’’ Knaus said. “As long as we do that, I think we’re going to be where we need to be.’’
It didn’t seem likely that Johnson could gain that many points on Kenseth at this track even though it’s one of Johnson’s strongest. Kenseth also has been good here and was fast much of the weekend. Gaining three to five points might have been a hopeful goal. Gaining 10 is a big turnaround even with Kenseth maintaining the lead.
This is what a fan of any sport would want - athletes competing against each other at their highest level.
“I really feel like I operate better the more painful it is, the harder it is,’’ Johnson said. “I don’t enjoy that experience, but I’ve always done a better job and surprised myself through those moments. It was like that in this race, and I think it’s going to be more so that in the coming races to the checkered flag in Homestead.’’
Kenseth left Dover disappointed with his result.
“You want to do better than seventh at one of your best tracks,’’ he said. “It was a solid day, but we wished for a little bit more.’’
He had nothing late for Johnson, who led 165 of the final 170 laps.
Even that wasn’t easy. A final caution sent the leaders to pit road on Lap 371. Johnson entered first, took two tires and exited first. Teammate Jeff Gordon was second with two tires and Kenseth was third with two tires. Earnhardt restarted fourth but had four tires. Johnson took the outside lane - the preferable lane - and had Earnhardt behind him.
“I ran my guts out to stay ahead of him,’’ Johnson said.
Said Earnhardt: “I think the difference in the tires between our two cars was about to show, but the race is 400 laps.’’
While Greg Biffle said before this weekend that anyone calling this a three-man race “is stupid,’’ it’s getting harder to think that anyone can catch the top three in points even if they have problems.
Carl Edwards entered the race fourth but fell to 11th after he finished 35th. A broken left rear hub sent him to the garage with less than 30 laps to go.
“We gave it the best effort we could,’’ he said. “We did not need to have that trouble, but there’s a lot of racing left.’’
Kevin Harvick entered the race fifth and moved up a spot, but he’s 39 points behind Kenseth.
“We just kept ourself in the game,’’ Harvick said. “We still have some work to do to get the performance a little bit better. We have got to fix pit road.”
Gordon also trails Kenseth by 39 points after finishing fourth, making him think even more about sliding out of his pit stall last week at New Hampshire while leading. That cost him more than 20 positions and he couldn’t recover.
This time, he was hoping to conserve enough fuel to make it to the finish, something Johnson could not do.
“Man, I did not want to see that last caution,’’ Gordon said. “I felt like we were really in the perfect position fuel mileage wise, tires, speed of the car, we were just sitting there riding trying to get to the end.’’
It didn’t work out for him or any others trying to best Johnson on this day. Johnson simply would not be beat.