A race that featured a pothole ended with NASCAR’s most dominant driver going back to victory lane for his second straight victory. Jimmie Johnson earned his second win a row as he led 272 of the 400 laps run in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover.
Johnson has now won nine times at the Monster Mile, extending his record for having the most wins at the track. The win marks Johnson’s 68th career victory on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. On a restart with less than five laps to go, the No. 48 Chevrolet was able to hold off a hard charging Brad Keselowski for the win after passing Matt Kenseth who spun his tires on the restart.
“Our whole day, we were in a range and we were balanced pretty well, just couldn’t run that fast," Kenseth said in a post-race press conference. “If we tried running fast, we just couldn’t run that quickly. We just started off too tight and if we started out decently, we would be too loose at the end of a run. We were just trying to keep up with track position.”
"The first run or two, I didn't think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape," Johnson said. "It was an awesome racecar. The first run wasn't sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here.
However, the win did not come easy as the entire field was thrown a curve ball before the half-way point of the race.
Suddenly, a piece of debris went flying into the air. There was thought that it was a can at first, but conclusions came that one of the strangest incidents occurred.
Jamie McMurray was running 16th when his No. 1 car suddenly hit a piece of the track. As he was coming out of Turn 2, McMurray hit a piece of concrete which sent his Chevrolet into the wall on the backstretch. The race was red flagged as track officials worked on repairing the hole in Turn 2 which was approximately six inches according to team radios.
“We will do the best job that we can and see what we can get,” McMurray’s crew chief, Keith Rodden said after NASCAR wouldn’t enable them to work on the car during the red flag.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton said after the race that it was against the rules, but there has been exception to that specific rule in the past. Pemberton referenced the cable issue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013 as an example of when NASCAR would enable teams to work on cars under red flag conditions. Pemberton also stated that an epoxy-type solution was used to patch up the hole.
Besides having damage to the pavement, the cross-over bridge above the turn was also bruised in the incident. A piece of glass on the bridge’s outer part shattered as the concrete flew up into the air. The bridge is approximately 30 feet above the track surface according to a track spokes
Kevin Harvick stated that some guys were looking at that area on Saturday after the NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He noticed the track was coming up, but it was not worked on.
“I saw it this morning on the way to the driver's meeting," Johnson said over the radio to his crew during the red flag. "It was already coming up. I was wondering if they'd seen it."
The red flag lasted just over 22 minutes as a speedy-dry type of concrete was used to fill the hole.
As pit stops were about to start, Alex Bowman blew out a tire to throw out the first caution of the day, but A.J. Allmendinger attempted to short pit and was caught a lap down with just 25 cars on the lead lap after 65 laps.
Clint Bowyer was attempting to pass Kyle Busch in Turn 4 when he got into Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending him into the wall. He successfully got around Busch, but then he went right into the fence. After the wreck, Busch stalked Bowyer’s car during the caution, attempted to give him a tap, and then went into the garage with his beat up car. Busch rushed over to his motor home where he could not be reached for comment.
Allmendinger got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who then hit his teammate, Greg Biffle. The rear end of the No. 16 Ford was destroyed, and the entire right side of Stenhouse’s car had to be cut off in the garage after he hit the inside wall on the backstretch.
“I didn’t see it coming," Biffle said in the garage area. "They were about two and a half groove up on the top and it looked like A.J. tried to squeeze Ricky there. When he came up off the bottom, he turned right into me. It really sucks. We were racing hard there, and that’s what happens when you are back there.”
As he was leading the race, Harvick blew a right-side tire following the restart after the red flag. Bowman got into the will two more times following his initial wreck, and went to the garage after blowing a tire on Lap 221.
Ryan Newman was working his way inside of the top-10 after running approximately 20th for the first half of the race, but had a transmission failure which forced his No. 31 crew to go to the garage. Newman was mandated to a 31st-place finish.
Entering Dover, four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was leading the points standings. Gordon was contending for a top-five spot the majority of the day. Evidently, the handling gave out on the No. 24 Chevrolet, ending the day in 15th.
After the 400-mile race, Gordon relinquished the points lead to Kenseth, who has yet to win a race this year. Kenseth leads the standings by two markers over Gordon with Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson with Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top-five.
After 13 races, 10 drivers are all but locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Kenseth, Larson, Newman, Vickers, Menard and Dillon being the remaining six drivers who are high enough in points to race in the Chase as of now.
Here are some notables from the FedEx 400:
- Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five finish of the year at a non-restrictor plate track by crossing the stripe in the fourth position.
-Martin Truex Jr. recorded his best finish of the young season on Sunday afternoon by finishing in sixth.
-Tony Stewart made a hard charge for the lead late in the race, but after the late-race caution, Stewart fell back to the seventh position.
-Finishing 11th, Kyle Larson was the Rookie of the Race. Larson started at the rear of the field for an engine change, but sporadically made his way up through the field.
-Making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut – Brett Moffitt finished 22nd in the No. 66 Toyota Camry for Identity Ventures Racing.
-Danica Patrick finished 23rd on Sunday – her best career finish in four starts at Dover.
-After experiencing fuel pickup issues throughout the day, David Gilliland ended the day in 29th.
-Blake Koch recorded a career-best finish of 30th in the No. 32 Ford. Making his fourth Sprint Cup Series start, Koch outran his previous best finish of 35th during this year’s Coca-Cola 600 where he finished 35th.
-J.J. Yeley had his third engine failure for the third consecutive time this year.
-Paul Menard earned his seventh top-10 of the season with a 10th-place finish at Dover. Menard's career-best years in 2012 and 2013 consisted of nine top-10s each.