NASCAR: Round 28: AAA 400 – Dover Monster Mile – Sep 26

Jimmie Johnson rebounded from last week’s serious setback by chalking up and important and emphatic win at one of his favourite and most successful circuits, Dover’s Monster Mile.

Johnson led the field from pole position after a good start, but the car was feeling loose and Johnson never broke away from second place man AJ Allmendinger who was soon into his groove and passing the 48 to take the lead on lap 14.

A caution on lap 38 when one of the caution lights came loose allowed for pit stops, and shortly after the restart David Reutimann slammed into the wall on lap 50 to bring out the second caution but Allmendinger retained the lead throughout and looked impressively fast as the race entered a lengthy 131 lap green flag period.

That meant a round of pit stops under green, and Allmendinger was one of the first to come in on lap 112. After the tops cycled through, AJ was left with a huge 5.5s lead over Martin Truex Jr. thanks to the sterling efforts of his pit crew, with Johnson back in second but ominously reporting that this latest stop had left him with a more responsive car.

Allmendinger was far less happy, the handling of the car going away sharply to the point that he was on the radio telling the team he would have to pit or else end up wrecking: his lead started to reduce sharply and he was in on lap 172 for fresh rubber hoping to fix a problem with a tyre going down. Unfortunately for AJ, a yellow flag came out on lap 186 (when Matt Kenseth blew a tyre heading to pit road) before the rest of the field had come in for their pit stops, leaving the 43 a lap down. To add insult to injury, he missed the free pass by one position and would have to slog the old fashioned way to unlap himself over the next 50 laps to put himself back on the lead lap.

That left the lead to Jimmie Johnson ahead of Truex and Kyle Busch who had picked up several places, partly thanks to another terrific performance by his pit crew but mainly thanks to Johnson having to overbrake on entry to pit road to avoid entering too fast and getting hit by a drive-thru penalty than he knew from experience would be the end of his chances of winning. But Truex exited contention on lap 208 with a loose wheel and a suspected broken axle that put him in the garage, leaving second to Kyle who had seen off a concerted attack from Jeff Gordon in the proceeding laps. But Gordon was also fading out of the running, a suspected problem with the chassis making him easy prey to the likes of Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards; nor was Kyle having a great middle section of the race, slipping and sliding through the turns and surviving a glancing blow with the wall on lap 250 which he just managed to stop from being a permanent problem.

Kyle was happier after the next round of pit stops, still under green as the race had another long caution-free period that extended almost 100 laps before debris on lap 290 brought out the fourth caution of the afternoon. Everyone duly pitted again, and Kyle narrowly pit Jimmie Johnson off pit road (despite Jimmie having secured the perfect pit box just before the exit line) to lead at the restart. Johnson had a poor restart, spinning his wheels and losing second to Joey Logano while Kyle disappeared off into a comfortable lead.

It took 20 laps but son Johnson was back on form, calmly sliding past Logano to retake the second spot and setting his sights in Kyle for the lead. 17 laps later, he’d just the distance to the 18 and took the lead on the low side: Kyle had no comeback, and indeed was struggling in this closing stint of the race with the car being too tight, which would see him haemorrhage positions, Jeff Burton taking second place from him on lap 346.

Fuel conservation to the end wasn’t a possibility, so there was one more quick splash-and-dash green flag pit stop to fit in around 40 laps before the end of the race. Johnson – whose stops during the race had hitherto being best described as “glitchy” – this time got the perfect service and was back out with an increased lead over over 2s ahead of Burton. Not even having to weave his way through lapped traffic got put Johnson off his stride, and he looked for all the world like he was out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive in the country.

With no further dramas or cautions, this relatively incident-free race came to the chequered flag with Johnson unchallenged. It was the perfect result – maximum points for the race win, pole and most laps led nicely undoing the damage inflicted on his Chase campaign the previous week, boosting him up into second spot behind Denny Hamlin in the championship.

Hamlin had a solid if unspectacular afternoon, finishing in ninth place just ahead of Allmendinger who had worked his socks off to recover to the top ten after his pit stop problem midrace. Hamlin knows that consistency is the key to Sprint Cup success, and the same applies to Kyle Busch who despite falling to sixth place in the final laps still resides in third place in the Sprint Cup and looks very threatening in his attempt to win a first Sprint series title.

With strong finishes for Burton, Edwards and Kurt Busch, it was Kevin Harvick who fell back three places in the Sprint Cup after finishing 15th, and Jeff Gordon whose waning form in the latter part of the race saw him drop four places. But it’s early days yet and it’s no surprising that the positions are relatively volatile.

Of course, the man with all the bad luck this week was Clint Bowyer. After winning last week but getting stripped of the points for a technical infringement (the appeal will be heard this week) and then having an ongoing feud on and off track with Denny Hamlin over the “cheat” allegations, he had an appalling afternoon on the Monster Mile – hitting the wall after getting loose on lap 158 to damage the car and go a lap down, then getting a pit lane speeding penalty, he ended up four laps off the lead, a truly dreadful performance. Seven days ago he looked like a real contender for the Sprint Cup: this week, he probably can’t wait for 2010 to be over and done with. Such are the highs and lows of sport.

Race results

FIN ST  CAR  DRIVER             PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1   1   48   Jimmie Johnson     195/10  400  
2   27  31   Jeff Burton        170/0   400  
3   19  20   Joey Logano        170/5   400  
4   8   2    Kurt Busch         165/5   400  
5   10  99   Carl Edwards       160/5   400  
6   11  18   Kyle Busch         155/5   400  
7   9   98   Paul Menard        146/0   400  
8   13  39   Ryan Newman        142/0   400  
9   4   11   Denny Hamlin       138/0   400  
10  2   43   A.J. Allmendinger  139/5   400  
11  15  24   Jeff Gordon        130/0   400  
12  42  5    Mark Martin        127/0   400  
13  7   1    Jamie McMurray     124/0   400  
14  5   42   Juan Montoya       121/0   400  
15  33  29   Kevin Harvick      118/0   400  
16  12  83   Reed Sorenson      120/5   400  
17  22  19   Elliott Sadler     112/0   399  
18  14  17   Matt Kenseth       109/0   399  
19  6   16   Greg Biffle        106/0   399  
20  23  47   Marcos Ambrose     103/0   399  
21  25  14   Tony Stewart       100/0   398  
22  31  12   Brad Keselowski    97/0    398  
23  32  88   Dale Earnhardt Jr. 94/0    397  
24  29  6    David Ragan        91/0    397  
25  24  33   Clint Bowyer       88/0    397  
26  18  78   Regan Smith        85/0    397  
27  34  09   Bobby Labonte      87/5    397  
28  16  9    Kasey Kahne        79/0    396  
29  26  13   Casey Mears        76/0    395  
30  35  38   David Gilliland    78/5    395  
31  41  37   Tony Raines        70/0    394  
32  20  82   Scott Speed        67/0    393  
33  30  34   Travis Kvapil      64/0    388  
34  3   56   Martin Truex Jr.   66/5    383  
35  17  00   David Reutimann    58/0    373  
36  21  77   Sam Hornish Jr.    55/0    349  Electrical
37  40  7    Kevin Conway *     52/0    129  Fuel Pump
38  39  71   Landon Cassill     49/0    126  Clutch
39  43  46   Michael McDowell   46/0    71   Brakes
40  38  55   Mike Bliss         43/0    60   Transmission
41  28  87   Joe Nemechek       40/0    58   Brakes
42  36  81   J.J. Yeley         37/0    43   Transmission
43  37  36   Dave Blaney        34/0    29   Electrical
* Denotes Rookie 

Sprint Cup standings

POS +/- DRIVER             PTS   GAP     ST  P  W  T5 T10
1   --  Denny Hamlin       5368  Leader  28  1  6  11 13
2   +4  Jimmie Johnson     5333  -35     28  2  6  11 15
3   --  Kyle Busch         5323  -45     28  2  3  8  16
4   +1  Kurt Busch         5309  -59     28  2  2  9  16
5   -3  Kevin Harvick      5303  -65     28  0  3  12 18
6   +1  Carl Edwards       5295  -73     28  2  0  7  15
7   +2  Jeff Burton        5288  -80     28  0  0  6  14
8   -4  Jeff Gordon        5285  -83     28  0  0  10 14
9   -1  Greg Biffle        5228  -140    28  0  1  5  14
10  --  Tony Stewart       5206  -162    28  2  1  7  14
11  --  Matt Kenseth       5203  -165    28  0  0  5  10
12  --  Clint Bowyer       5133  -235    28  0  1  5  15
==== CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS =====
13  --  Ryan Newman        3363  -2005   28  1  1  2  10
14  --  Jamie McMurray     3344  -2024   28  3  2  8  10
15  +1  Juan Montoya       3253  -2115   28  2  1  5  13
16  +1  Mark Martin        3225  -2143   28  1  0  5  7
17  -2  David Reutimann    3190  -2178   28  0  1  5  6
18  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3162  -2206   28  1  0  3  7
19  --  Kasey Kahne        3132  -2236   28  2  0  6  8
20  +2  Joey Logano        3106  -2262   28  1  0  4  11
21  --  A.J. Allmendinger  3086  -2282   28  1  0  1  6
22  -2  Martin Truex Jr.   3053  -2315   28  1  0  1  6
23  --  Paul Menard        2867  -2501   28  0  0  1  4
24  +1  Marcos Ambrose     2741  -2627   28  0  0  2  5
25  -1  David Ragan        2738  -2630   28  0  0  0  1
26  --  Brad Keselowski    2726  -2642   28  1  0  0  0
27  --  Sam Hornish Jr.    2520  -2848   28  0  0  0  1
28  +1  Elliott Sadler     2489  -2879   28  0  0  0  1
29  -1  Scott Speed        2471  -2897   28  0  0  0  2
30  --  Regan Smith        2388  -2980   28  0  0  0  0
31  --  Bobby Labonte      2036  -3332   28  0  0  0  0
32  --  Travis Kvapil      1988  -3380   27  0  0  0  0
33  --  David Gilliland    1852  -3516   24  0  0  0  0
34  +1  Kevin Conway*      1638  -3730   25  0  0  0  0
35  -1  Robby Gordon       1626  -3742   22  0  0  1  1
36  --  Brian Vickers      1158  -4210   11  0  0  0  3
37  --  Joe Nemechek       1108  -4260   26  0  0  0  0
38  --  Reed Sorenson      1086  -4282   13  0  0  0  1
39  --  Casey Mears        1010  -4358   14  0  0  0  0
40  --  Dave Blaney        967   -4401   21  0  0  0  0
41  +1  Mike Bliss         919   -4449   14  0  0  0  2
42  -1  Max Papis          907   -4461   18  0  0  0  0
43  --  David Stremme      825   -4543   11  0  0  0  0
44  --  Bill Elliott       800   -4568   9   0  0  0  0
45  --  Michael McDowell   726   -4642   20  0  0  0  0
46  --  J.J. Yeley         625   -4743   11  0  0  0  0
47  --  Boris Said         448   -4920   6   0  0  0  1
48  --  Landon Cassill     437   -4931   9   0  0  0  0
49  +1  Tony Raines        366   -5002   6   0  0  0  0
50  -1  Todd Bodine        313   -5055   7   0  0  0  0
* Denotes Rookie 
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