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 tenth caution of the race for David Stremme's hard crash on the front stretch - 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 in all, cleared Stewart for the lead through turns three and four on lap 398 and pulled away to finish 0.861secs ahead of the #14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet.
“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."
Having taken two tyres 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 the reigning Cup champion finally found room to the outside through turns one and two and completed the winning pass through the final two corners.
“I wasn't going to give up," Johnson continued, "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'. 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,” he said, having become 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 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.
“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.”