As the laps ticked off late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson was probably picturing where he would put his latest Miles the Monster trophy.
That is, until the five-time champ was busted for jumping the restart from second place on Lap 381 with 19 laps remaining in the FedEx 400.
“Please take a look at that,” Johnson pleaded with NASCAR officials over the radio after he was told he would be penalized for pulling ahead of race leader Juan Pablo Montoya prior to the allowable line. “I totally checked up, honestly. I was like quarter-throttle down the straightaway.”
But NASCAR wasn’t buying Johnson’s explanation at the time and forced him to bring the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy down pit road for a pass-through penalty. After the team was shown the black flag, crew chief Chad Knaus reasoned with his driver, “I want you to win this race, bring it down here.”
“They’ll black flag you man,” spotter Earl Barban said. “They’re not budging.”
Johnson obeyed NASCAR’s directive on Lap 385. After the race, he said, “I totally disagree with the call."
“At some point, I gotta go. And in this situation, NASCAR has the judgment to decide if you jumped it or not,” Johnson said. “But I’m like, (Montoya) is not even going. So I’m not sure if his car broke . . . or (he) spun the tires. I don’t know. So I’m running half-throttle down the frontstretch waiting for him and he never comes. So at that point, we got back going. Chad even told me on the radio that something had happened and that I should just take off and not worry about it.
“And then we were called on it. So, a bummer way to lose a race. We certainly had the winning car."
Johnson led 143 laps on Sunday, second only to Kyle Busch. He maintains the points lead with a 30-marker advantage over Carl Edwards, who finished 14th.
Montoya sensed Johnson was trying to jump the start and said he simply maintain a cautious pace before the race went green.
“Jimmie was laying off about just nearly a car length from me, and I knew he was trying to jump the start,” Montoya said. “And I backed off a little bit for us to line up, and he didn’t want to do it. When we got to the line, I think he wanted to time it and he timed it too well, and he just — you know, he wanted to get the jump on me and he just jumped it too much.
“I would have tried to have done the same. It’s one of those deals that when you time it too good, it actually hurts you.”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton considered the sanctioning body’s decision “an easy call – a very easy call.”
“(Johnson) left early and didn’t give it back,” Pemberton said. “We didn’t see any issue with the 42 (of Montoya) or where they restarted . . . He beat the 42 even out of the box from what we could see on the film. We give ’em an opportunity to give it back.”
Pemberton said if the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had any issues, it was welcome to come to him and discuss the situation.
“We’re here,” Pemberton said. “We’re always here. We’re at the R&D Center and everybody can come and talk and we can go over the film when they feel they want to spend the time to do it.”
Johnson, who hoped to break his tie for all-time wins at Dover with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty, took the high road, promising to exact his revenge in September.
“We’ll just come back and try to win in the fall," he said.