Jimmie Johnson makes statement with Dover victoryPublished 8:53am Monday, September 28, 2009
DOVER, Del. – Polesitter Jimmie Johnson threw down the gauntlet in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, but Mark Martin was up to the challenge.
With his fifth victory at Dover and second at the track this year, Johnson affirmed that his No. 48 Chevrolet team is a serious threat to win a fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Martin, however, retained the lead in the series standings with a runner-up finish to Johnson, who led 271 laps in claiming his fourth victory of the season. Martin leads his Hendrick Motorsports teammate by 10 points after two of 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Matt Kenseth ran third, his best finish since winning the second race of the season at Fontana, Calif., in February. Juan Pablo Montoya came home fourth — his second straight top five in the Chase — and Kurt Busch kept his hopes for a second Cup title alive with a fifth-place run.
Jeff Gordon, AJ Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top 10. Greg Biffle (13th), Brian Vickers (18th) and Denny Hamlin (22nd) all lost significant ground in the Chase standings.
Johnson credited crew chief Chad Knaus with adjustments that improved his car after Saturday’s final practice session.
“Chad made some great calls last night to make the car more comfortable to drive,” said Johnson, who earned the 44th win of his career to tie Bill Elliott for 14th on the career victory list. “It was really what I needed today. We had plenty of speed in it. I just needed some comfort, and I had that.
“I was able to lead a lot of laps, but the few times we were back in traffic because of strategy, I worked my way up through there, and everything went well.”
Martin said his car was slightly off, especially on restarts. Characteristically, he would drop positions on the opening laps of a green-flag run and regain them as the run progressed.
“We had a good-handling car on the long runs, but it was a handful on the restarts,” Martin said. “I think we did really well by finishing second. We were just off a little bit, and it really showed itself on the restarts, but we were off just a little bit even on the long run, even though we would get where we could beat most of the crowd.
“We didn’t hit it perfect, but as competitive as it is, I’m really proud of how well we hit it.”
Johnson beat Martin to the finish line by 1.970 seconds, but hours before the checkered flag, the race was stopped for more than 23 minutes after a spectacular crash involving rookie Joey Logano.
NASCAR threw a competition caution after Lap 25, setting up a restart on Lap 31. Before the field could complete the lap, however, a violent collision in Turn 3 sent Logano’s car barrel-rolling seven times down the 24-degree banking.
The wreck started when Bobby Labonte moved to the inside and clipped Logano as the cars streaked toward the corner. Logano checked up, only to have his No. 20 Toyota hit from behind by Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.
The chain-reaction collision that followed sent Logano rolling when Reed Sorenson’s Dodge slammed into the side of the car. Logano was unhurt, as were wreck victims Sorenson, Martin Truex Jr. and Robby Gordon, though the cars of all four drivers were mangled.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Logano said, after walking out of the infield care center. “It just really scared the heck out of me. … I’m not sure I want to see a replay. It started rolling, and I was in there like, ‘Damn, please make this thing stop.’ And it wouldn’t – it just kept going and going.”
Montoya climbed one position to third in the standings, 65 points behind Martin and 10 points ahead of Busch in fourth. Fifth-place Stewart trails Martin by 106 points, while Hamlin dropped three positions in the standings to sixth, 108 points back. … With his fifth victory at Dover, Johnson tied David Pearson for third on the all-time win list at the track. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison posted seven victories each at the Monster Mile.