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Johnson restores sense of order to the Chase

Jimmie Johnson claimed a record eighth Cup win at Dover on Sunday afternoon to restore a sense of propriety to a Chase that's been through some tumultuous times of late.
After the uproar of Richmond that left the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series play-offs with an unprecedented 13-driver line-up, and then the spectacular conspicuous success of Joe Gibbs Racing duo Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, the series probably needed a nice, calm, ordinary weekend in which to catch its breath and settle its nerves. And for times like that, there's nothing that says 'normality is restored' quite as clearly as the sight of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson dominating the proceedings and crossing the line first to claim the chequered flag.

"We came to a good track and we got what we needed to, done," said Johnson as be celebrated his win in victory lane. "Just a very fast race car ... I'm very excited. I'm very happy to have Mr Hendrick here. I wish that I had my family here. I want to say hi to my girls at home. Thank you to all the fans and to Sprint. This is just an awesome day and awfully timely in the scheme of things."

Despite the fact that the result of the race was notable in multiple ways - Johnson's victory in Sunday's AAA 400 is the eighth win he's claimed in Cup races at the one-mile Dover International Speedway, an all-time high that beats the previous tie he'd held with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison; and it was also the first time that all top ten spots in a Chase race had been filled by title contenders - the race itself itself was as close to being a typical day at the office as you can get in a sport that involves running around at speeds of over 150mph. There were no on-track incidents or accidents for the entire three hour running time, with just four cautions all afternoon and every one of them for debris or fluid on the track that needed cleaning up.

Right from the start, the Hendrick camp had laid down a statement of intent to put a stop to the annoying JGR habit of winning things. Their man Dale Earnhardt Jr. successfully converted pole to an early lead, and when Kenseth had the temerity to poke his nose in front of the #88 on lap 26 it was only a couple of minutes before Junior took care of that sort of nonsense and reasserted his authority on the proceedings. There was no way that he or the rest of the Hendrick camp were going to allow Kenseth to become the first man in history to sweep the first three races of the Chase, not if they could possibly help it.

The first debris caution materialised on lap 37 which allowed the field to make their first round of pit stops. While others went for four tyres, Kyle Busch opted for an early two-tyre gambit - a ploy more exploratory in nature if anything as he researched possible strategies for later in the afternoon. It worked well enough to start with once the race went green, but soon the #18's pace started to suffer and on lap 70 he began to fall back down the positions leaving the lead first to Ryan Newman and then back in the hands of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who brought along his team mate Jimmie Johnson as his wingman for the occasion.

Earnhardt had no trouble maintaining the lead until the next round of pit stops, which this time were under green flag conditions on lap 118. But Earnhardt struggled to make the awkward pit road entrance and overshot the commitment line, forcing him to pull out and come around a second time - a costly error that dropped him down to eighth place after the cycle of stops and handed the lead over to Johnson. Although Earnhardt would slowly work his way back to the front, he would never again enjoy such another long spell in the lead and he put this early error down as the major reason for why he wasn't able to clinch the win at the end of the day.

"Yeah, I take responsibility for getting a little too eager coming onto pit road for that green flag stop," he sighed later. "That track position is really important and I gave that up early in the race with that mistake coming onto pit road. And it cost us a shot at the win there.

"We're lucky we didn't have more trouble through that whole deal. I didn't know what the heck the rules are for that, so I was figuring we got off pretty light," he added. "I'll take responsibility for that mess-up coming on pit road for sure."

Although it was a setback for Earnhardt he was still running strongly, and instead it was Kurt Busch who was the first of the Chase contenders to hit real trouble at Dover when he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 159 with a loose right rear tyre. The Furniture Row Racing team had been experimenting with a new car crew this weekend drawing on some of the best talent from Nationwide Series teams, but the kinks clearly hadn't been quite been fully worked out. Busch had been steadily fuming about the #78's loose handling, which had totally missed the mark for what he needed even before the loose wheel mishap.




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Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 29, 2013 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Justin Heiman/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 1st, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd Sunday, September 29, 2013 in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson is now 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings, Earnhardt Jr. is 10th. (Photo Credit: Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 29, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Justin Heiman/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, does a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 29, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Justin Heiman/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory Sunday, September 29, 2013 winning the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson becomes Dover`s All-Time winner with his 8th victory on the track. The win puts him in second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, poses with the trophy in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, and the rest of the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, and Michael Annett, driver of the #7 Allstate Peterbilt/Pilot Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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