Jimmie Johnson has monster-like performance, dominates for 9th career win at Dover’s Monster Mile

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To borrow a line from the 1960’s Herman’s Hermits song, “Henry the Eighth,” the outcome of Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks was a case of “Second verse, same as the first” for Jimmie Johnson.

The six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion won his second consecutive race of the season, adding Sunday’s triumph at Dover International Speedway to last Sunday’s victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Johnson becomes the all-time winner at Dover, as Sunday’s was his ninth career Sprint Cup triumph there. He also is the third multiple winner this season, joining Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano with two wins apiece.

“It is incredible,” Johnson told Fox Sports. “This race car was awesome. I just have so much to be thankful for. “Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) told me I’d love the car, and sure enough, from the time we unloaded the car, he was right.”

Just like he did at Charlotte, Johnson once again dominated at Dover, leading 272 of the 400 laps on the one-mile, all-concrete track.

With his back-to-back wins, Johnson is now a lock to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he pursues his bid to tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers in NASCAR history to earn seven Cup championships in their respective careers.

While the rest of the field had one last gasp to catch Johnson (who did not pit) when a caution was called eight laps from the finish due to debris from Casey Mears’ car, the driver of the No. 48 had a great restart on Lap 396 and hung on to finish off a masterpiece of a performance for his 68th career Sprint Cup win.

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.

“We just had an up and down day,” Keselowski said. “We made a lot of adjustments and about halfway, the car just woke up. I was able to run from 13th to second. We just ran out of laps at the end to have a crack at getting (Johnson).”

Sixth through 10th were Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard. Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, just missing a top 10 finish by winding up 11th.

To say it was a strange race at times is an understatement.

On Lap 159, a piece of concrete broke free from the racing surface at the end of Turn 2 on the one-mile, all-concrete racetrack.

The roughly softball sized piece made a direct hit to the lower part of the front end of Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet, putting a sizeable dent in the bumper and splitter, causing NASCAR to red flag the race so that track workers could repair the resulting pothole that was about the size of a football.

NASCAR would not allow McMurray’s team to work on the car during the red flag conditions, but it will be able to do so once the event switched back to yellow flag caution conditions.

It was subsequently learned that when McMurray hit the chunk of concrete, parts of it flew up and struck the glass of the crossover walkway above the track at the exit of Turn 2. It did not appear anyone was injured in that incident.

And we hadn’t even gotten to halfway at that point, either!

Working backwards through the rest of the race:

A.J. AllmendingerGreg Biffle and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were all involved in a wreck on Lap 135 that also temporarily brought out a red flag condition.

Biffle’s and Stenhouse’s cars both suffered heavy damage. While it’s likely Stenhouse is done for the day, Biffle’s team is attempting to repair the damage to get him back on the racetrack.

Allmendinger, meanwhile, was able to continue.

* Then, 10 laps before that on Lap 125, Kyle Busch’s hopes for a weekend sweep came to an abrupt end when the right front of his Toyota made contact with the rear of Clint Bowyer’s Toyota.

The incident apparently cut down Busch’s right front tire as just seconds later he piled into the outside retaining wall.

Busch initially refused to come onto pit road, remaining on the racetrack – even with a flat right front tire and the damage to his car – and appeared as if he was going to retaliate to Bowyer.

Even though the track was under yellow flag caution conditions, Busch accelerated and looked as if he was going to get into Bowyer’s rear end, but eventually took his car to the garage after pleading from crew chief Dave Rogers over the team radio.

At the same time, Bowyer also accelerated to try and avoid Busch, who ultimately gave up his pursuit and drove to the garage.

After the race, Bowyer, who bounced back to finish fourth, regretted how things played out.

“What a day, frustrating day, hated that with Kyle, obviously,” Bowyer said. “(He and Busch) are teammates, so to speak, with the manufacturer (Toyota). It was a bad deal. Obviously, I thought I was clear and he kind of got up there. I thought he was going to give it to me (room), and he didn’t. Ruined his day for sure and it certainly didn’t help ours.”

To add insult to injury, Busch, who finished 42nd, was forced to wait to get into the garage because a track sweeper was blocking the entrance to the garage area.

Busch was attempting to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win all three major races on the same weekend. Busch is the only one to have done that previously, having won all three at Bristol in August 2010.

* It was a very quick race for Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers, who was forced to retire after just 73 laps due to a blown motor. Vickers finished last in the 43-car field.

* Sprint Cup rookie Alex Bowman brushed the wall twice in the first quarter of the lap, bringing out the caution flag once.

Josh Wise also sustained right rear damage when he also brushed the wall, but was able to get to pit road without a caution flag.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.