By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by the Sports Xchange
DOVER, Del. -- A penalty to Jimmie Johnson was all Tony Stewart needed to break out of a four-month slump.
After Johnson was assessed a drive-through penalty for jumping the final restart -- a sanction Johnson protested vehemently -- Stewart passed Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 398 of 400 to win Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.
The victory was the first of the season and third at Dover for Stewart, who has notched 42 of his 48 career wins after May 31. Stewart finished .788 seconds ahead of Montoya, who matched his career-best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finish on an oval track.
Jeff Gordon came home third, followed by Kyle Busch and reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Until the decisive penalty, however, it looked for all the world as if Johnson would claim a record eighth victory at the Monster Mile.
Johnson started 24th and, in the early stages of the race, had difficulty moving forward through traffic. In fact, the No. 48 Chevrolet SS went a lap down when Kyle Busch passed him on Lap 70.
But Johnson came to pit road early, on Lap 71, and used the extra time on new tires to regain the lost lap by the time NASCAR called an opportune caution for debris in Turn 2 on Lap 80. From that point on, it was a charge to the front by the five-time champion.
Johnson had worked his way up to sixth before a caution for debris on the backstretch slowed the field on Lap 160, moments after a blown engine eliminated what was arguably the strongest car in the race, Matt Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota.
After a restart on Lap 165, Johnson again moved forward, finally taking the lead for the first time on Lap 206, passing Kyle Busch to the inside through Turns 1 and 2.
Just as a Johnson victory was looking academic, however, Denny Hamlin's right front tire blew in Turn 1 and sent his No. 11 Toyota hard into the outside wall, bringing out the seventh caution of the race. Montoya took two tires when the lead-lap cars came to pit road and narrowly beat Johnson to the exit.
That turned the race inside-out, as NASCAR black-flagged Johnson for beating Montoya to the start/finish line on the restart on Lap 382.