Crazy. That’s the only way to describe Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway.
The bottom line — Jimmie Johnson winning here for the 11th time — was as predictable as death and taxes, but absolutely nothing else was on a long afternoon. While it’s true that Johnson is money at the Monster Mile, this was hardly a dominating performance.
In a 406-lap race, Johnson led just seven laps, passing Kyle Larson on the final overtime restart to take his third victory in the first 13 races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Here are five things we learned at the Monster Mile.
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Win on Sunday, sell on Monday
During the first two days at Dover, it looked like the weekend was shaping up for a Toyota blowout, as drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top four qualifying spots on Friday and were consistently fast in practice.
But the race wound up with the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson 1-2, with Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott fourth and fifth in two more Chevys. Third-place Martin Truex Jr. was the only Toyota driver in the top five, while the best Ford finisher was Kevin Harvick in ninth.
Three drivers who didn’t win but deserve props might surprise you: Danica Patrick, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez. Patrick finished 10th to earn her first top-10 Cup finish since Bristol in 2015.
McDowell, who drives for the small, single-car Leavine Family Racing team posted his third consecutive top-20 finish. That’s the first time in 226 career Cup starts that McDowell has finished in the top 20 three times in a row.
Suarez, meanwhile, set career-bests for qualifying (third) and finishing (sixth) in a Cup race. Congrats to all three drivers.
Kyle Larson led the most laps and finished second, while Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages and finished third. Truex and Larson are 1-2 in points and have been fast all year. Despite the fact that neither driver beat Johnson, they are both legitimate championship contenders. They’re that good.
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Dover was the best of times and the worst of times for several drivers. Chase Elliott broke a streak of four bad finishes with a much-needed fifth-place finish. On the other hand, Joe Gibbs Racing is still winless in 2017 and since winning at Richmond, Joey Logano hasn’t finished in the top 20 in any of the last four races.
If there’s a lesson to take away from this race, it’s don’t ever count Jimmie Johnson out, especially not here. This is the third time since the final race of last season that Johnson has won a race where he started at the back of the field, including Homestead-Miami Speedway last November when he came from last to win the race and his record-tying seventh Cup championship. If he’s not the best ever, he’s darn close.