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…

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.