Jimmie Johnson takes record eighth career win at Dover

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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…

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and Danish youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”