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Jimmie Johnson had a rocking good time at Dover, but everyone else, well that's a different story

Jimmie Johnson had a rocking good time at Dover, but everyone else, well that's a different story

A beautiful Sunday afternoon at Dover (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Okay, it's hard to talk to Jimmie Johnson at the moment, with that rainbow wig he's wearing, another sponsorship gimmick.
   Movietime coming.
   And Johnson himself concedes it was tough at times for him too, to keep from breaking down laughing during Sunday afternoon's Dover 400.
   "Just proud of this hair," Johnson said with a giggle after the win.
   And some of his crew guys too: "The guy carrying the front tires was wearing one, and every time I came down pit road I got a good laugh," Johnson said.
   "It was a fun day."
   But Johnson was about the only guy in the field who could say that.
   Teammate Jeff Gordon was irate at a mistake that cost him a shot at the win. And Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch too all left the track in sour moods.
   It was Johnson's 57th Cup victory over his career, in 376 races, and his seventh here at the Monster Mile, an uphill-downhill concrete track that can beat the hell out of a driver's body, hitting those concrete seams like a jackhammer.
   And if Johnson goes on to a sixth NASCAR Cup championship this season, this stretch  -- this win, following the Darlington Southern 500 win and the Charlotte All-Star win – is probably where it will all kick off.


   Even Miles the Monster got into the PR swing of things with Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The season started slowly for the Rick Hendrick guys, and that DNF in the Daytona 500 didn't exactly get Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus off on the right foot.
   But it sure looks like the tide has turned.
   "Today was flawless, no mistakes…and we had the speed to back it up," Johnson said.
   Well, most of the day he had the car and speed.
   Gordon had him covered midway through the race, Johnson conceded: "When he got by me and drove away, that's all I had.  I didn't have anything for him then.  
   "But it just shows how much of a team sport NASCAR is.  It takes every element.  Last week we were on the end where a mistake (on pit road) cost us… and this week it cost Jeff."


   Not a good weekend for Kurt Busch. And now he must await a possible NASCAR decision Tuesday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    So, Number Six?
   "It's just way too early to talk championship," Johnson protests. "I mean, we are doing the things right now that will win one, but we need to do this in September and on.
    "Things are very good for our company. We know the areas where we found some raw speed, and now we are fine-tuning.
    "First of all, have to make the chase….and I think two wins now puts us in a very nice position.
    "We need to keep the pressure on and roll into September with the same thing going, in order to win a championship.  
    "When you look at what Tony and Carl went through last year, that's a perfect example.  You just don't show up and think everything is going to turn out as you hoped.  You have to get in there and race hard for all ten races.
    "And none of that matters until we go to Chicago, the first race (Sept. 16th).  None of it matters until we get to Chicago."


   Carl Edwards: a blown tire sent him behind the wall early for lengthy repairs (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Goodyear's new compound for this 400 seemed better to drivers that the more gooey compound previously used.
     "I thought it worked out a lot better," runner-up Kevin Harvick said. "I didn't feel any of those patches (of heavy rubber build-up) or the sliding around getting in the corner.  
     "Seemed like you could move your car around. So it seemed like they definitely made an improvement."
    Kenseth agreed: "Me too -- way better.
    "All that stuff that used to build up an inch or inch and a half (thick)….and you couldn't really restart…
     "This time it never stacked up very high, it didn't seem like.  I thought it was better too; seemed like it widened the track a little bit."
    Johnson was more critical, because tires on restarts are difficult to manage.
   "The tricky part about the restarts, especially on used tires, is we laid down a lot of rubber and the hot tire would pick up that rubber," Johnson said.
    "And it was so tough to keep your tires clean so that you could accelerate right on the restart.
     "We just picked up all that rubber and could feel the wheel get out-of-round and the car would start bouncing around on a straightway…
     "I had probably my weakest restart with Kevin, who was alongside of me going into turn one. And the way track position is, even if you have this dominant car, it's tough to get by guys.
    "So I also look back and say our effort on pit road kept me in control of the race, and that was a plus -- so I could pick the lane I wanted and control the start."


   Jimmie, you're sure that helmet is NASCAR-approved? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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