There can now be no debate: Jimmie Johnson is the best driver in Dover International Speedway history.
Johnson pulled away from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the race's final 26 laps to win the AAA 400 Sunday and pull within eight points of points leader Matt Kenseth.
The win was Johnson's eighth at the concrete one-mile oval, which is the most of any driver in the track's history. Johnson entered Sunday tied with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for the most wins at Dover, and his eighth win came in just his 24th start. Allison's seven wins came in 35 starts while Petty's came in 46.
(Keep in mind that Sunday could have easily been Johnson's ninth win at Dover. In June, he was penalized for jumping the race's final restart and had to serve a pass-through penalty on pit road that cost him the lead and likely the win.)
Johnson chose the high line on the race's final restart after a debris caution and had Junior behind him. Junior had pitted for four tires and immediately jumped to second behind Johnson through turns one and two. Was the fresher rubber going to be a catalyst for Junior's first win since Michigan in June of last year?
No. Johnson opened up a half second lead after Junior tried a higher line in turns one and two to no avail and steadied the gap the rest of the way.
"That's real disappointing there, but Jimmie's just that fast," Junior said. "He's just that good around this place. I thought we might be able to get to him, and I was definitely going to do whatever I could to win if I could get him within reach. I just couldn't get to him."
Johnson said he was a little nervous when he saw Earnhardt in his mirror in second immediately after the restart.
"Two worked good for us in practice -- I wanted to see four tires line up in the fourth and fifth row (on the restart). They lined up right behind me and I thought I was going to have my hands full," Johnson said. "Junior drove a whale of a race and track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off."
Oh yes, the dreaded words of track position. Four tires was a superior strategy to two tires throughout Sunday's race. That strategy had worked for Junior earlier in the race, he just didn't have enough time to make it work at the end. Though part of the reason it was so successful was because the 400 lap race featured just three caution flags and, subsequently, lots of long green flag runs.
Kenseth, winner of the first two races of the Chase, faded from fourth to seventh over the races final stint. Kyle Busch, who entered Dover in second in the standings, finished fifth and is 12 points behind Kenseth in third place.
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