Hooked on NASCAR as a kid, there was something about Cale Yarborough that made a fan out of Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was glued to the set as he sat on a dirty old couch at home in El Cajon, California. He loved Yarborough’s fearlessness and the way the Hall of Fame driver kind of reminded Johnson of his grandfather.
Johnson even stopped at a Hardee’s on a road trip because he believed the fast-food joint and Yarborough’s sponsor was the race shop. There was one more part of Yarborough that Johnson admired:
“His winning,” Johnson said.
Oh, Yarborough won – 83 times.
The same number in the record book as that California kid who grew up to become even better than his idol.
Johnson sped off on the final restart Sunday and earned another slice of NASCAR history, winning in overtime at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway for the 11th time and moving into a tie for sixth on the career victories list.
He then tipped his cap – more like, his tribute helmet – toward Yarborough.
“Cale, you’re the man,” Johnson said.
Johnson again made an impact at his favorite track – and he worked hard to take this checkered flag. He was forced to start from the rear of the field because of a gear change, then zipped past Kyle Larson in overtime on the restart.
“You put that route in front of me and I’ll chase it down,” Johnson said.
Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, has racked up a Hall of Fame resume all with team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus. He plopped his helmet on top of the Chevy in victory lane and swapped it out for a throwback No. 28 Hardee’s Chevrolet Yarborough hat.
“I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents, my brother, we’re driving across the country and we pull into a Hardee’s,” Johnson said. “I had no idea it was a burger stand. I really thought when I walked in the door that I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop. I was very disappointed. I had a burger and left and understood the world of sponsorship.”
Johnson and the 78-year-old Yarborough are the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships.
Johnson, who won for the third time this season, is on a drive for a record eighth. With more wins like this one, Johnson just may pass Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and get No. 8. He drove the entire 10-race Chase last season with a tribute helmet to Earnhardt and Petty.
“Drivers have always used helmets as their voice,” Johnson said.
His says loud and clear he has a deep respect for NASCAR’s greats.
Larson was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott. Truex won the first two stages on the 10-year anniversary of his first career Cup victory, also at Dover.
Larson had his second win of the season in his grasp until he spun the tires on the restart.
“Jimmie’s the best of our time,” Larson said. “Probably the best of all time.”
There was a multicar wreck on the final lap that brought the race under caution, but Johnson had hit the line needed to make the race official and he coasted to the finish.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver swept Dover in 2002 and 2009 and also won races in 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Johnson also joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (Martinsville-15, North Wilkesboro-15, Richmond-13, Rockingham-11) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol-12, Martinsville-11) as drivers to win 11 races at a single track.
Waltrip and Bobby Allison are next on the wins list with 84.
At this rate, Johnson could pass them by the end of the season.
“You have to say he’s one of the greatest to race in this sport,” Hendrick said.
Graham Rahal completed a doubleheader sweep in the Detroit Grand Prix to become IndyCar’s first two-time winner this season.
Rahal’s Honda-power car finished 1.17 seconds ahead of Josef Newgarden’s Chevrolet, a day after getting to the checkered flag six-plus seconds ahead of the competition.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver pulled away for the victory after a single-file final restart with two laps to go in the 70-lap race on Belle Isle course.
Rahal became the first to sweep in Detroit since it began hosting doubleheaders in 2013. He became the first to win two IndyCar races in a weekend since Scott Dixon pulled off the feat four years ago in Toronto.
A red flag stopped the race for 18 minutes after 67 laps because Spencer Pigot’s car had a mechanical failure. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver got out of his smoke-filled car after a yellow flag came out because James Hinchcliffe’s car stalled.
On Saturday, Rahal, from New Albany, Ohio, became the first American to win in Detroit since Michael Andretti in 1996. He has six career victories, five in two-plus seasons.
Will Power of Team Penske was third Sunday, giving Chevy a better showing than on Saturday when Honda swept the podium near General Motors’ world headquarters.
Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato earned the pole earlier in the day and finished fourth with his Honda-powered car for Andretti Autosport.
Brittany Force won the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire, for her first Top Fuel victory of the season and fourth overall.
The daughter of Funny Car star John Force, she beat Antron Brown in the final with a 3.716-second pass at 328.62 mph.
“We figured things out in Topeka (in the last event) and I felt like we had our team back so we knew our first win would be right around the corner for us,” Force said. “The key to it all is our team sticking together and not giving up, and it definitely paid dividends today.”
Brown had a 3.728 at 327.98.
Matt Hagan won in Funny Car, and Erica Enders topped the Pro Stock field.
Hagan raced to his third victory of the season and 25th overall, beating Courtney Force – Brittany Force’s sister – with a 3.897 at 332.59 in a Dodge Charger.
Enders won for the first time this season and 22nd time overall. She had a 6.534 at 213.16 in a Chevrolet Camaro to edge Tanner Gray.
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