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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.




Related Pictures

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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)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS qualified for 9th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Newman, who is in the Chase, is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for 13th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon, who is in the Chase, is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS won the pole position and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS qualified for 16th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. McMurray, who is not in the Chase, is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. This was McMurray`s 2nd Pole win this season. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, climbs into his car prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, laughs before practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, leads Ben Kennedy, driver of the #31 Heater.com Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, left, talks with crew chief Alan Gustafson in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A view of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, driven by Darrell Wallace, Jr., in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney and Matt Crafton confer. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney at Kansas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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