Jimmie Johnson cruises to victory in Dover NASCAR Sprint Cup race

Posted: June 04, 2012

DOVER, Del. - Jimmie Johnson spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway, leading for 289 of the 400 laps and watching in his rearview mirror as problems plagued many of his key competitors

The closest thing to a mistake Johnson made in winning the FedEx 400 was the rainbow-colored fright wig he wore to Victory Lane, a not-so-subtle nod to his turquoise car's movie-themed sponsor, Madagascar 3.

"It was just a fun day," Johnson said, still sporting his ersatz hairdo. "Clearly we had a fast race car and amazing pit stops."

In capturing his 57th career victory, Johnson pulled into a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison atop the all-time Dover win list with seven.

"I'm very proud of the effort of the whole team, and I know it's hard to give you a serious answer with this hair on, but I'm very proud of the seven wins here and to be in that very elite company. It's pretty cool to be [mentioned] with legends of our sport and guys that I've looked up to."

Thanks in large part to exhaustive work by crew chief Chad Knaus, who overhauled the setup on a new car that had never been on a racetrack, Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet was simply unbeatable, running away from the field on restarts and consistently padding the lead on long green-flag runs.

Runner-up Kevin Harvick couldn't even keep his No. 29 Chevrolet in the same zip code down the stretch, when Johnson comfortably held the point for the final 76 miles.

The only car that could have reasonably challenged Johnson belonged to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, former Dover dominator Jeff Gordon. But after Gordon ran in Johnson's tire tracks for long stretches, a loose left rear wheel sent the No. 24 to pit road and put Gordon a lap down.

"We just cannot afford to make mistakes," Gordon said dejectedly, after battling back to finish 13th. "We had the best car I've had here in a long, long time - a car definitely capable of winning this race."

Matt Kenseth, who held onto second place in the standings by finishing third in the No. 17 Ford, agreed with Gordon's assessment.

"I don't think anyone could run with the 24 and 48 today," Kenseth said. "They seemed to be in a league of their own."

Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart was among the first to feel the wrath of the Monster Mile, getting caught up in the biggest wreck of the NASCAR season just nine laps into the race.

The chain-reaction crash, in the tricky transition from the high banks of Turn 2 onto the unusually narrow backstretch, eliminated a dozen drivers from contention not long after the estimated crowd of 85,000 had filled the seats. The damage was so severe and the cleanup so extensive that the race was stopped for nearly 20 minutes.

Although no injuries were reported, Stewart looked as if he had been through a prizefight as he detailed how his already rough season had taken another hit. The 25th-place finish was his fifth outside the top 20 in 13 races.

"We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Stewart, who qualified 29th and struggled to find speed throughout the weekend.

Carl Edwards, who had posted 11 top-10 finishes in 15 career starts here, was on pace for another strong run before a flat right-front tire sent his No. 99 Ford hurtling into the wall on Lap 165. In finishing 26th, Edwards slipped three spots to 12th in the standings and, at least momentarily, dropped out of contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Greg Biffle maintained the points lead - by one over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Kenseth - even though his No. 16 Fusion never mounted a considerable threat in finishing 11th.

The series heads up the Northeast Extension this week for Sunday's Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

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