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Wow! Now that's a race: Jimmie Johnson charges from deep in the pack down the stretch and fights hard to beat Stewart and Biffle to win Dover 400

Jimmie Johnson, after a great rally, takes the checkered to win the Dover 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.

   Jimmie Johnson put on a brilliant charge over the final 25 miles after a bad pit stop put him in a deep hole, and the three-time NASCAR champ chased down Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart to win Sunday's Autism Speaks 400.
   Johnson dominated the warm, sunny afternoon, running out to big leads at times, sometimes as much as nine seconds, and leading 298 of the 400 laps.
   But a late caution, with 30 miles to go, proved costly for Johnson, when he came out ninth for the restart after a slow pit stop, when his crew jammed up on the left-front tire.
   A crisp two-tire stop by Greg Erwin's crew put Biffle in the lead for the restart on lap 368. And he used clean air to take a big lead quickly, with Stewart and Ryan Newman, who also opted for only two new tires, chasing him.
    However Johnson charged up through the field to get to third with 14 miles to go, and with 10 miles to go it was a tight three-man race.
    And it was one heck of a fight.
   Johnson, after a vicious duel, finally got the lead with an outside pass on Stewart with three miles to go at the one-mile concrete Dover International Speedway.
   Clean air gave Johnson the edge he need to pull away to his second win of the season.
   "That was a heck of a race with Tony, that's what racing is all about," Johnson said. "This was a huge day. To have to run that hard and pass that many cars to get the lead was a huge challenge. I was about into the wall several times. Got up to the crumbs and said 'Stick, stick, stick.'"


After rainstorms cleared out, it was a beautiful day in the NASCAR neighborhood (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


But Stewart came out of the day in remarkable fashion – leading the Sprint Cup tour standings. That's the first time since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 for an owner-driver atop the standings.
   "Obviously it's cool to be leading the points this early into a new venture," Stewart said. "And I'm pretty excited about the end of the day there. There's no shame in running second to the man who had the fastest car and led most of the day.
   "I just couldn't hold off Jimmie. He was like a freight train coming. I was surprised I could hold him off as long as I did. I kept trying to take his line away, but just couldn't do it enough.
   "But you had three guys racing for the lead inside 10 laps to go, that's amazing."
   Johnson's teammate Mark Martin was tight in the hunt all afternoon, and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., with a new crew chief, was also up front much of the afternoon, running as high as third, before fading to 12th. Still it was one of Earnhardt's best performances of the season.
   The fourth Rick Hendrick driver, though, Jeff Gordon, was never a factor. He crashed in practice and he struggled throughout the race.
   Kurt Busch appeared ready to challenge for the win, running second after his own good charge, when the key caution came out with 30 miles to go.
   A number of drivers had tire problems, excessive tire wear on the edges of the right-sides.
   That appeared to be a result of some teams cantering their chassis, to make the car turn better in the corners.
   By thus cantering the chassis, the car is running somewhat sideways down the straights. That's similar to problems teams had in Saturday's Truck race, when some drivers blew out tires on the straightaways.
    Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Waltrip were among the men having severe tire wear. And Denny Hamlin was having one of his best days of the season, running second, when he blew a right-front tire midway.
   "That was a pretty hard hit," Hamlin said of his first-turn lick. "I didn't have any warning at all.
   "I pushed (in the corners) a little harder than we had all day. But if anything, we were going to be hard on the right-rear, not the right-front.
   "I think it was just a freak deal. The tire just blew.
   "We looked at the tire and there was no wear on it, on the inside. So either something punctured it, or it was a freak blowout deal."
   Kyle Busch's run of bad luck continued, with a loose wheel late that cost him two laps. He finished 23rd. In Saturday's Nationwide/Truck doubleheader Busch could have had two wins but got bounced by Joey Logano in the first race, then blew a right-front in the second.
   While Busch has won three times this season, including Richmond just a few weeks ago, his record since March is pretty ragged: a 24th at Martinsville, an 18th at Texas, a 17th at Phoenix, a 25th at Talladega, a 34th at Darlington, and a sixth at rain-shortened Charlotte.

Hey, maybe Kyle Busch isn't the best driver in NASCAR. Here's a big vote for three-time champ Jimmie Johnson, who was outstanding in winning at Dover (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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