Jimmie Johnson conquered the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Johnson, in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, who led only seven of the 406 circuits on Sunday, scored his 11th career victory at the one-mile oval located in the “First State” of Delaware.
“It means a lot to me. When I was growing up in southern California racing dirt bikes I was a big Cale Yarborough fan,” said Johnson after the race. “We travelled across the country to race in the Amateur Nationals heading to Oklahoma, we stopped at a Hardees I walked in thinking I would meet Cale Yarborough and left with a burger. So, it opened my eyes to the world of sponsorship at that point in time, but I was such a fan and it’s been an amazing journey along the way. It was a huge honor to tie him with three consecutive championships a few years back and then to be here at 83 wins and a day where things played out in such an awkward and weird fashion just very happy that we’ve got it done. To my 83 wins, I’m just so proud that it’s come with one owner, one sponsor, one manufacturer, one crew chief, one team, this is a very special journey this whole Hendrick Lowe’s team has been on.”
The win did not come easy for the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Johnson and the No. 48 team started the AAA 400 at the rear of the field because of a rear gear change.
“The conditions were really tough today. I think everybody struggled with balance, corner entry was very uncomfortable for the cars,” Johnson continued. “Mine was decent. Once I got to the top two or three I just couldn’t charge the corner hard enough to catch anybody and put a competitive pass on them. I got the restart of my life there at the end. I was able to just beat the No. 42 through (Turns) 1 and 2 and I guess make it to that line on the back straightaway before the yellow came out.”
That wasn’t all. A caution with four laps remaining came out as Kyle Larson held a huge lead over Johnson. That sent the race into NASCAR Overtime and that’s when Johnson would later take the lead away on the restart. Another crash quickly ensued shortly after Johnson had crossed the overtime line on the backstretch. After checking video replays, NASCAR quickly determined that Johnson had won his 83rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race – tying Cale Yarborough in all-time wins. It marked his third victory of the 2017 NASCAR season.
Kyle Larson, who dominated the race by leading six different times for 241 circuits, took home the runner-up spot in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Yeah, Jimmie (Johnson) did a good job,” said Larson after the AAA 400. “A lot better job than I did. I spun my tires. I just spun my tires pretty bad. I tried taking off not using a lot of throttle and still spun my tires pretty bad. I knew we were both probably going to spin pretty bad, but I wasn’t getting great launches all day. I was always having to fight people off into Turn 1 when I was the leader. But, you know, my team gave me a great Target Chevy again. I thought we were the best car today, me and the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) I thought we were really good. I definitely, obviously, didn’t need that last caution there. I was just cruising trying to log some laps, get to the end. I saw the lapper in front of me blow a right-front and wasn’t too worried. I thought maybe the outside lane would take off good. I just didn’t do a great job.”
Larson entered Sunday afternoon with momentum after taking home the victory in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday at Dover. The California native finished second in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the fifth time of 2017.
“He (Jimmie Johnson) did what he had to do to get the best launch that he did. We were both playing games a little bit,” Larson continued. “He just took off better than I did. I wasn’t really complaining about the restart. He did a good job. He’s a seven-time champion for a reason. He’s got a golden horseshoe somewhere; and he’s really good at executing. So, I’ve just got to get better at that. We had a dominant car all day. We had a couple of runs where we got off; maybe some bad tires or something. But we were able to rebound from those struggles.”
Larson holds one victory, six top five and eight top 10 finishes through 13 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts in 2017. The rising star sits second in points as the series leaves Dover.
Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top three finishers in the AAA 400. The second-place starter led the field for 102 laps and showed strength all throughout the day at his home track. The New Jersey native goes into next weekend’s race leading the series driver standings by nine points over Kyle Larson.
Kevin Harvick, who took home the ninth spot on Sunday after starting 18th, sits third in the series driver standings looking 116 points behind Truex. Kyle Busch, who started on the pole and finished 16th, and Jamie McMurray, who finished seventh in the AAA 400 on Sunday, round out the top five in points as the series heads to Pocono Raceway next weekend.
Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch found themselves into trouble early on. On lap 66, Keselowski and Busch made contact in turn one, knocking Keselowski out of the race. Busch could continue with his day but not for long. On lap 93, Busch’s day ended short as they blew a tire. Busch will take home a 37th-place finish and Keselowski will leave the one-mile oval with the 38th spot.
The caution that ended the race on lap 406 involved nine drivers. The list included Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Cole Whitt, and Erik Jones.
The series will head to Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400. The race can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 at 3:00 p.m. ET. The Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM Channel 90 will carry the live radio broadcast.