Johnson rolls at Dover
And the way things are going, it’ll probably remain there for the foreseeable future in some fashion or another.
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his debut with a new crew chief Sunday, it was Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson who took center stage after a dominating victory in the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson clearly had the best car but some late-race dramatics were required to earn his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and 42nd of his career.
Johnson, who took four tires on his last pit stop, had to come from behind to pass Tony Stewart, who had taken two tires, with three of 400 laps remaining to pick up the win.
“At the end, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was just trying to get what I could,” said Johnson, who moved up one spot to third in the series standings.
“I didn’t want to make a mistake like I did in Las Vegas and tear the car up trying to get back to the front, and before I knew it I got by the guys that were on four (tires) and was in third.”
That still left Greg Biffle and Stewart and little time for error.
“I caught (Biffle) as he was getting passed by (Stewart) so that helped me make quick work of him,” Johnson said. “It took a lot of commitment to get to (Stewart’s) outside. I wasn’t sure the car was going to stop sliding up the track.
“It was a huge day. To have to run that hard to pass that many good cars to get the lead, that’s a challenge.”
Johnson’s win helped bring the headlines surrounding HMS this week back to on-track performance.
After a week of media scrutiny over team owner Rick Hendrick’s decision to change Earnhardt’s crew chief, celebrating a victory appeared good medicine for everyone involved.
“Overall, I was pleased with the day,” said Hendrick, who had three drivers—Johnson, Mark Martin (10th) and Earnhardt (12th)—finish 12th or better. “I mean, you know, as dominant as Jimmie was, it looked like the rest of our guys were running for second.
“But you know, you never can tell.”
Earnhardt made it through his first race with new interim crew chief Lance McGrew without an abundance of problems. In fact, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet was running in the top-five before he dropped off late in the race.
“Track position was real important and we didn’t have it at the end of the race,” Earnhardt said. “We had good communication and we made the car a little better.”
, by Lap 200, and I was pretty happy and pleased.
“We need to keep doing that.”
Johnson said the issues with Earnhardt’s team over the last week were hard to ignore.
“For us, teammates are family and we want our teammates to be successful and win races and championships and all those things,” he said. “So in one respect, it’s difficult.
“But at the same time, we have to worry about what the No. 48 team is doing and how our performance is.
“Once we get into the motions of the weekend, we’re just really worried about our set-up of the car and our strategy and our shocks, our tires and really our world.”
Jeff Gordon, who led the series standings entering the weekend, struggled Sunday. He went a lap down while getting caught on pit road during green-flag pit stops. Later, his team missed on an adjustment to his No. 24 Chevrolet and he ended up 26th.
Gordon dropped to second in the standings, 46 points behind new leader Stewart.
Stewart, ironically, also has a Hendrick connection. His Stewart-Haas Racing organization gets car chassis and engines from HMS.
“You know, it’s just good to see all of our guys, the teams we support with motors and cars run well, too,” Hendrick said. “We’re proud of that.
“But at the end of the day, when it gets down to the Chase (for the Sprint Cup), we want to win with these guys.”
With three drivers in the Top 12 in points so far, Hendrick appears to have plenty of ammunition.