Jimmie Johnson takes record eighth career win at Dover


Jimmie Johnson made both headway in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and history at Dover International Speedway after holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final laps to win the AAA 400, scoring his record eighth career triumph at the Monster Mile.

A debris caution with 31 laps to go triggered one last round of pit stops, which saw Johnson retain the lead after taking two tires. Joining him in the two-tire camp were Jeff Gordon and Chase leader Matt Kenseth, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. took four tires for the last stint.

When the green flag came back out with 26 to go, Earnhardt quickly shot past Gordon and Kenseth to move to second position but couldn’t quite reel in Johnson, who was able to make the the two-tire stop work out handsomely.

“When they lined up right behind me, I thought I was gonna have my hands full and I did,” Johnson told ESPN after winning on a day where he led 243 laps. “Junior drove a whale of a race but the track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off.”

With the victory, Johnson moved to second in the Chase at just eight points behind Kenseth, who fell back at the end to a seventh-place finish. Kyle Busch dropped to third in the Chase at 12 points behind Kenseth despite finishing fifth in the race.

And with seven races to go, it appears that the predictions of this being a three-horse race are coming true after all. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are tied for fourth in the Chase, but at a whopping 39 points behind Kenseth.

“All these teams are great and when you put the 18 [Kyle Busch] and the 20 [Kenseth] up there, it’s going to make this a very difficult deal,” he said. “I think it’ll be fun for the fans to watch. We came to a good track and we got what we needed to get it done. I know that 20 is going to be awfully strong for the rest of the stretch and I look forward to racing him.”

As for Earnhardt, a strong afternoon wound up just short of what would have been a popular win among his army of fans. Afterwards, he admitted disappointment after he had thought four tires would have been the right call.

“That’s real disappointing there, but Jimmie’s just really that fast,” Earnhardt said. “He’s that good around this place and I thought I might be able to get to him. I was definitely going to do whatever I could to win if I could get him within reach, but I couldn’t even get to him.

“Just real disappointed…Running second is no better than running 10th to me. I’d like to get a trophy here soon.”

Joey Logano turned in a quiet but solid third-place effort ahead of Gordon in fourth and Kyle Busch in fifth.

More to come through the evening…

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”