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. Allmendinger, Greg 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.
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