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Jimmie Johnson dominated the second half of the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, but his bid for a third victory this season ended when he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty after NASCAR officials judged he jumped the final restart. Johnson crossed the finish line 17th in his No. 48 Lowe’s Monsters University Chevrolet SS, one lap down in the 400-lap race.
“I was half-throttle for the whole frontstretch. And at some point, I’ve got to go,” Johnson said when asked about the lap 382 restart alongside leader Juan Pablo Montoya that caused Johnson to receive a penalty. “And in this situation, NASCAR has the judgment to decide if you jumped it or not. But I’m like, ‘He’s (Montoya) not even going.’ So I’m not sure if his car broke or if it was off power or spun the tires. I don’t know. So I’m running half-throttle down the frontstretch waiting for him, and he never comes.”
“So at that point, we got back going. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) even told me on the radio that something had happened and that I should just take off and not worry about it. And then we were called on it. So a bummer way to lose a race. We certainly had the winning car. Would have loved to have this Monsters University Chevrolet in Victory Lane today, but we’ll have to come back and do it in the fall.”
Johnson, who started 24th at the 1-mile concrete oval, reported that the No. 48 Chevy SS was very loose at the start of the race. Knaus called for a green-flag pit stop on lap 70 as leader Kyle Busch put Johnson a lap down. The team made adjustments that helped tighten the car, and Johnson returned to the lead lap after pit stops cycled. In the early going, Johnson made a series of stops under caution so the Lowe’s team could further adjust the car. He quickly gained speed.
By lap 160, Johnson had moved into the top five and took the lead for the first time on lap 206. He led 143 of the remaining 194 laps.
But the final restart of the race, on lap 382, led to the end of Johnson’s dominant run. After pitting for right-side tires and exiting pit road in second place, behind Montoya, Johnson took the lead immediately when the green flag waved. It looked like Montoya spun his tires, but Johnson was given a drive-through penalty by NASCAR for jumping the restart. Johnson lost a lap while serving the penalty and returned to the track in the 17th position. He closed out the final green-flag laps as the first car one lap down, finishing 17th.
Johnson was hoping for his eighth victory at Dover, but remains tied with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison on the all-time wins list with seven victories each.
Tony Stewart won the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks to score his 48th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Dover.
Montoya finished .788 of a second behind Stewart in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Busch and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 32 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
With round 13 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent as well as the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 473 points give him a 30-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards. Earnhardt occupies sixth place with 398 points, 75 out of first and 37 ahead of 11th-place Gordon. Kasey Kahne is seventh with 392 points, 81 out of first and 31 ahead of 11th. Gordon is 11th with 361 points, 112 behind Johnson and 10 points behind 10th-place Paul Menard.
Thirteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Party in the Poconos 400 on Sunday, June 9 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at noon.