Dover dominance: Jimmie Johnson wins for 10th time at Monster Mile
All season long, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have been the men to beat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, trading victories back and forth like the heavyweights that they both are.
Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway proved to be no exception, with Johnson passing Harvick late in the race and then holding on through a series of crashes to win in dramatic fashion.
Johnson, the six-time Cup champion, scored his 10th race victory at Dover, as he won for the fourth time this season and the 74th time in his career, all in his familiar No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Finishing second was Harvick, the defending series champion, in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. He was followed Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Aric Almirola.
Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 131 laps en route to a sixth-place finish.
Johnson and Harvick both gambled on pit strategy late in the race, the two champions staying out with 25 laps to go while all the other lead-lap drivers behind them pitted.
On the restart, Johnson was able to pass Harvick for the lead and he held on through two more restarts, including a green-white-checkered finish to win.
"I guess guys on two (fresh) tires weren’t all that fast," said Johnson. "Chad (Knaus, crew chief) said something about that to me on the radio and they never really came. The 4 (Harvick) and I did just fine on our old tires and held those guys off. It was a hard fought day."
Johnson attributed the victory to "just driving hard … and trying to be smart with my line."
Harvick said he struggled when the green flags flew, which hurt his chances at the end.
"The restarts were bad," said Harvick, who has finished in the top two in nine of 13 races so far this season. "We just struggled with really, really tight on the restarts. We didn’t need to see the cautions."
Denny Hamlin was the clear pre-race favorite, having started on the pole in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which was fastest in both practices on Saturday and second in Friday’s lone session. Hamlin took the lead at the start, dominating the early action until Truex muscled past on Lap 42.
After a debris caution, Hamlin retook the lead on pit road on Lap 77. Once again, Truex ran Hamlin’s Toyota down, recapturing the lead on Lap 144.
At Lap 200, the halfway point of the race, Truex led Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Johnson.
Truex surrendered the lead on Lap 248, when he and the rest of the top seven cars all pitted for fuel and tires.
The round of pit stops cycled Hamlin back to the lead briefly until he pitted on Lap 258.
That handed the lead to Harvick for the first time, with Truex second.
On Lap 316, Johnson passed Truex for second place, with Harvick ahead by 3.30 seconds, although Johnson’s lap times were better at this point.
Green-flag pit stops began around Lap 325, with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Greg Biffle all staying out to lead over Harvick and Johnson.
Finally, Keselowski pitted on Lap 359, giving the lead back to Harvick.
With 25 laps to go, Kyle Busch and Brian Scott crashed to bring out a caution. Harvick and Johnson stayed out to lead, with everyone behind them coming in for fresh tires.
The track went green with 17 laps left, Johnson taking his first lead of the day on the restart.
Then, more drama. On Lap 385, Clint Bowyer turned Hamlin on the backstretch, snaring Kurt Busch in the crash with him.
This time, thee green flew with 10 laps to go, Johnson leading ahead of Kahne, as the veteran continued to hold the top spot despite his old tires.
With two laps left, Greg Biffle ran into the back of Casey Mears, bringing out another yellow and setting up a green-white-checkered finish. And from there, Johnson was able to hold on, with Harvick taking the runner-up spot at the end.
VIDEO: Kevin Harvick talks about his second-place finish at Dover on Sunday