28 September 2010
Maximum points for reigning champion
AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Busch kept him under pressure, but in the end no one could prevent Jimmie Johnson clearing up at Dover.
Jimmie Johnson rebounded from last week's serious setback by chalking up and important and emphatic win at one of his favourite and most successful circuits, Dover's Monster Mile.
Johnson led the field from pole position after a good start, but the car was feeling loose and Johnson never broke away from second place man AJ Allmendinger who was soon into his groove and passing the 48 to take the lead on lap 14.
A caution on lap 38 when one of the caution lights came loose allowed for pit stops, and shortly after the restart David Reutimann slammed into the wall on lap 50 to bring out the second caution but Allmendinger retained the lead throughout and looked impressively fast as the race entered a lengthy 131 lap green flag period.
That meant a round of pit stops under green, and Allmendinger was one of the first to come in on lap 112. After the stops cycled through, AJ was left with a huge 5.5s lead over Martin Truex Jr. thanks to the sterling efforts of his pit crew, with Johnson back in second but ominously reporting that this latest stop had left him with a more responsive car.
Allmendinger was far less happy, the handling of the car going away sharply to the point that he was on the radio telling the team he would have to pit or else end up wrecking: his lead started to reduce sharply and he was in on lap 172 for fresh rubber hoping to fix a problem with a tyre going down. Unfortunately for AJ, a yellow flag came out on lap 186 (when Matt Kenseth blew a tyre heading to pit road) before the rest of the field had come in for their pit stops, leaving the 43 a lap down. To add insult to injury, he missed the free pass by one position and would have to slog the old fashioned way to unlap himself over the next 50 laps to put himself back on the lead lap.
That left the lead to Jimmie Johnson ahead of Truex and Kyle Busch who had picked up several places, partly thanks to another terrific performance by his pit crew but mainly thanks to Johnson having to overbrake on entry to pit road to avoid entering too fast and getting hit by a drive-thru penalty than he knew from experience would be the end of his chances of winning. But Truex exited contention on lap 208 with a loose wheel and a suspected broken axle that put him in the garage, leaving second to Kyle who had seen off a concerted attack from Jeff Gordon in the proceeding laps. But Gordon was also fading out of the running, a suspected problem with the chassis making him easy prey to the likes of Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards; nor was Kyle having a great middle section of the race, slipping and sliding through the turns and surviving a glancing blow with the wall on lap 250 which he just managed to stop from being a permanent problem.
Kyle was happier after the next round of pit stops, still under green as the race had another long caution-free period that extended almost 100 laps before debris on lap 290 brought out the fourth caution of the afternoon. Everyone duly pitted again, and Kyle narrowly pit Jimmie Johnson off pit road (despite Jimmie having secured the perfect pit box just before the exit line) to lead at the restart. Johnson had a poor restart, spinning his wheels and losing second to Joey Logano while Kyle disappeared off into a comfortable lead.
It took 20 laps but son Johnson was back on form, calmly sliding past Logano to retake the second spot and setting his sights in Kyle for the lead. 17 laps later, he'd just the distance to the 18 and took the lead on the low side: Kyle had no comeback, and indeed was struggling in this closing stint of the race with the car being too tight, which would see him haemorrhage positions, Jeff Burton taking second place from him on lap 346.
Fuel conservation to the end wasn't a possibility, so there was one more quick splash-and-dash green flag pit stop to fit in around 40 laps before the end of the race. Johnson – whose stops during the race had hitherto being best described as “glitchy” – this time got the perfect service and was back out with an increased lead over over 2s ahead of Burton. Not even having to weave his way through lapped traffic got put Johnson off his stride, and he looked for all the world like he was out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive in the country.
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