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Keeping Pace

Johnson Bests Stewart And The Monster In Dover

Restarting eighth on Lap 374 of 400, after NASCAR called the 10th caution of the race for David Stremme’s hard crash on the frontsretch, Jimmie Johnson atoned for a slow pit stop and charged through the field to run down Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart and win his fourth Sprint Cup race at Dover, his second of the 2009 season and the 42nd of his career.


By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

DOVER, Del.—It’s tough to keep a good man down—and when you have the combination of a great car and an excellent driver, it’s downright impossible, as Jimmie Johnson proved in Sunday’s Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Restarting eighth on Lap 374 of 400, after NASCAR called the 10th caution of the race for David Stremme’s hard crash on the frontsretch, Johnson atoned for a slow pit stop and charged through the field to run down Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart and win his fourth Sprint Cup race at Dover, his second of the 2009 season and the 42nd of his career.

Johnson, who led 298 laps, cleared Stewart for the lead through Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 398 and pulled away to finish .861 seconds ahead of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet. Having taken two tires to Johnson’s four during the final pit stops for each team, Stewart repeatedly ran high through the corners to try to block Johnson’s line.

But Johnson finally found room to the outside through Turns 1 and 2 and completed the winning pass through the final two corners.

Biffle finished third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Casey Mears and Mark Martin completed the top 10. In his first race at Hendrick Motorsports with a crew chief other than Tony Eury Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. faded to 12th after a cracking the top five earlier in the race.

“Fortunately, I had such a good car that I could run around the top,” said Johnson, who climbed one position to third in the series standings. “My hat’s off to Tony Stewart. That was one heck of a race. I had to drive so far over my head to get by him. I’m just very proud of what we did out there on the racetrack today.

“I wasn’t going to give up. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew I had a great racecar. I knew there were some laps left, and it was just time to go—and I got it done. To have to run that hard to pass that many good cars to get the lead, that’s a challenge. I really had to suck it up and get going. I thought I was going to pound the wall a couple of times on the top. I cooked it off in there too fast and slid right up to the crumbs, and I’m like, ‘Please stay, please.’ And it stuck, and I made it back around.”

Stewart, who took the series points lead from 26th-place finisher Jeff Gordon, used his consummate skill to try to keep Johnson behind him.

“We had an opportunity,” said Stewart, who became the first owner/driver to lead the points standings since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. “We got to the lead there and got by Biffle and just couldn’t hold off Jimmie. He was like a freight train coming. I mean, I was surprised I could hold him off as long as I did, but I was pretty happy that we were able to do it for that long.

“I mean, when you’re the fastest car and you’re coming as fast as he was, it was just a matter of getting the opening that he needed, and we did everything we could to take his line away from him as often as we could, but just couldn’t do it long enough.”

Earnhardt’s strong run started to erode after Denny Hamlin smacked the wall on Lap 231 to bring out the fifth caution of the afternoon. With a quick pit stop, Earnhardt came out third for a restart on Lap 237, but his No. 88 Chevrolet developed a tight handling condition and began to fade.

Despite adjustments under the sixth caution (called because of debris on Lap 276), the condition worsened after a restart on Lap 281, and Earnhardt brought the car back to pit road five laps later, after a wreck on the backstretch involving Paul Menard and Robby Gordon put the race under caution for a seventh time.

The pit stop dropped Earnhardt to 15th for a restart on Lap 291, but changes to the car sent the handling from tight to loose, and Earnhardt wasn’t a contender for the win after that. Nevertheless, he gained one position in the standings to 18th, 215 points out of 12th place, the last position eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

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We asked former Sprint Cup drivers Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker the following question: Why are teams having so much trouble on pit road this year?
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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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