DOVER, Del. — So much for Jimmie Johnson’s supposed “slump.”
The six-time Sprint Cup champion held off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski in the final four laps of the FedEx 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Dover International Speedway on Sunday to win his second consecutive race overall and the ninth of his career at Dover.
“It was an awesome race car,” said Johnson, who won the Coca-Cola 600 last week for his first victory of the season. “The first run, I wasn’t sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here. Once the track rubbered in, our car came to life, and it was so good.
“It’s amazing that we can stay on top of things here with the different generation car, different rules, different tires. This place just fits my style and (crew chief) Chad Knaus’ style.”
Keselowski finished second and Matt Kenseth, who was next to Johnson on the front row for the final restart, finished third.
“The car was really strong the second half of the race,” Keselowski said. “My guys made great adjustments on it, and we drove up to second there. We were pretty equal to Jimmie there but never got a crack at him. I would have liked a shot.
“It was a decent day for us, finishing second, and that is something to be proud of, but we want one spot more.”
Johnson dominated the race, leading seven different times. He ran up front for nearly three quarters of the 400-lap distance, a total of 270 laps. Johnson took the race from Kyle Busch on lap 82. The only other drivers to lead were Kevin Harvick, Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.
Harvick moved in front of Johnson on a restart that followed a lap-134 caution. He continued to run first until he experienced a tire issue on a restart following a caution on lap 158. The tire problem left Harvick two laps down.
Kenseth ran up front until Johnson retook the lead on lap 178. Johnson then remained in the lead with the exception of a handful of laps ran under caution after the yellow flag waved with 40 laps to go. Bowyer stayed out while everyone else pitted, and he restarted the race in the first position. However, as soon as the race returned to green, Johnson retook the lead and didn’t look back.
“The first run or two, I didn’t think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape,” Johnson said. “Even with some varying track strategies and (losing) track position, we were still able to smoke our way through traffic and get to the front and control things.”
The yellow flag waved one final time with eight laps remaining. The front-runners stayed out, putting Johnson and Kenseth on the front row for the restart and Keselowski on the second row in third place. As soon as the race returned to green, Keselowski got by Kenseth for second but was unable to catch Johnson.
Keselowski started the race from the pole but lost the lead to Busch on the first lap. Busch was credited with leading the first 81 laps before hitting the wall after contact with Bowyer. His car sustained enough damage to retire him from the race.
The yellow flag waved a total of eight times, with two of those cautions progressing into race-halting red flags. The first red flag came on lap 135 for track clean-up after an incident involving the Roush Fenway Racing teammates of Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with AJ Allmendinger, Landon Cassill and Ryan Truex. Biffle returned to the track 101 laps later to keep alive his streak of 84 races without a DNF (did not finish).
“Inside of the car, I didn’t really know what happened,” Biffle said. “I just knew the 47 (Allmendinger) got into us pretty hard and turned us into the fence. After watching the replay, I see what happened. They were racing hard back there, and he stuck it into a hole that maybe there wasn’t room for.”
The second red flag waved right after a lap-158 caution so that track officials could fill a pothole in the racing surface after a chunk of concrete came out of the track and was hit by Jamie McMurray.
Bowyer finished the race in the fourth place, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five after overcoming a pit-road speeding penalty during a caution on lap 66. Finishing sixth through 10th were Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard.NOTES: Jimmy Johnson has led more than 100 laps at Dover in 13 different races, including 10 out of the past 11. ... Johnson surpassed 2,800 career laps led at Dover, making him the track’s all-time laps leader. ... Johnson’s win was the third straight for Hendrick Motorsports, with Jeff Gordon winning before Johnson’s two most recent victories. ... Johnson won back-to-back races for the 13th time in his Sprint Cup career. ... Kevin Harvick’s 24 laps led Sunday exceeded his laps-led total for all previous races at Dover. ... Kyle Busch was going for a Dover sweep after winning the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series races earlier in the weekend.