Jimmie Johnson dominates Monster Mile, leaps to second in Chase

Jimmie Johnson, above, moves within 35 points of points leader Denny Hamlin after finishing 25th in the first Chase race.

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Jimmie Johnson, above, moves within 35 points of points leader Denny Hamlin after finishing 25th in the first Chase race.

DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson had it all. He won the pole, dominated again to win at Dover International Speedway, and even held his baby daughter in his arms in Victory Lane for the first time.

He called it a dream weekend.

Yet, it wasn't enough for the four-time Cup champion. Not even close.

Johnson let the field know his bid for a fifth straight title is alive and thriving by winning the AAA 400, second race of the Chase for the Championship, on Sunday for his sixth victory of the season. He won't be truly happy with the result until he's hoisting the series trophy and celebrating another title after the finale.

"Yes, (Sunday) was a big victory and hopefully a step toward the championship," Johnson said, "but it's not the prize we want."

Johnson has owned Dover the past two years, winning for the third time in four races on the mile concrete oval. He shook off a poor finish in last week's Chase opener at New Hampshire to turn the fastest qualifying lap, cruise to the checkered flag and rise to second in points, 35 behind Denny Hamlin.

Johnson has few better tracks to jump-start his championship run than Dover with six career wins and 12 top-10 finishes in 18 races. He was sensational in the No. 48 Chevrolet here in May until a rare pit road mistake put him in 16th place.

"There's a very unique rhythm to driving this track, and it's just suited my style," Johnson said.

Chase drivers filled five of the top six spots. Jeff Burton was second, Kurt Busch fourth, Carl Edwards fifth and Kyle Busch sixth. Joey Logano spoiled the sweep with a third-place finish.

Burton said no one should ever count out Johnson.

"They're good," he said. "They're not good, they're great. That word is not being overused when I say that."

Hamlin kept his points lead with a ninth-place finish heading into the next race at Kansas Speedway. The points leader after Dover has never gone on to win the championship since the Chase's inception in 2004.

"A lot of people are waiting for us to slip up like we have in the past, but I don't see it this time around," Hamlin said. "I just think our team is too focused at this point, and we're running too well for that to happen. I think it's going to go all the way to the wire."

Hamlin is a strong favorite to thwart Johnson's drive for five. Hamlin's average finish at Dover was 22.8 in nine previous races — only Daytona at 23.1 is a more troublesome spot for the Joe Gibbs Racing contender — so Sunday was a positive sign for his title run over the final eight races. His points lead is the largest for any driver after the second Chase race.

"The original goal was to be 80 points back after Kansas," he said. "Well, that goal has been shifted now."

Hamlin had an active weekend. First, he blasted Clint Bowyer's explanation for driving an illegal car in his New Hampshire victory. Then, he was bumped by Kevin Harvick, Bowyer's teammate, in practice Saturday and the two got into a screaming match in the garage.

Hamlin considered the issue over.

Dover lacked the drama of last week's opener when Tony Stewart lost a big gamble and ran out of fuel right before the white flag, allowing Bowyer to zip past for the win. Bowyer's celebration was short-lived after he flunked inspection last week and was docked 150 points. His rough stretch continued with a 25th-place finish and, unless he wins Wednesday's appeal, his championship hopes are all but dashed.

Bowyer's car was again taken by NASCAR back to its North Carolina research and development center for a more thorough examination. No car failed Sunday's postrace inspection.

Chase drivers were scattered throughout the results. Jeff Gordon was 11th, and Harvick 15th. Matt Kenseth battled a cut tire to finish 18th and Greg Biffle was 19th. Stewart was 21st.

Title hopes are grim for Stewart (10th place, 162 points out) and Kenseth (11th place, 165 points out).

Johnson finished 25th last Sunday at New Hampshire. It was the worst showing for any driver in the Chase and dumped him from second to seventh.

This time, Johnson led a race-high 191 laps.

"Last week didn't turn out like we wanted," Johnson said. "I don't look all that excited right now, but there's a huge weight off my shoulders that we were able to come and win a race in the Chase, rebound from last weekend and we're in the middle of this thing."

Sprint Cup points

With eight races to go. Only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts. Back

Denny Hamlin 5,368—

Jimmie Johnson 5,333 35

Kyle Busch 5,323 45

Kurt Busch 5,309 59

Kevin Harvick 5,303 65

Carl Edwards 5,295 73

Jeff Burton 5,288 80

Jeff Gordon 5,285 83

Greg Biffle 5,228 140

Tony Stewart 5,206 162

Matt Kenseth 5,203 165

Clint Bowyer 5,133 235

Note: Points unofficial;

NASCAR posts official standings today

Up next

Price Chopper 400, 1 p.m. Sunday, Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.

TV: ESPN

fast facts

AAA 400

Winner's average speed: 131.543 mph

Time of race: 3 hours, 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Margin of victory: 2.637 seconds

Caution flags: 4 for 19 laps

Lead changes: 16 among 10 drivers

Lap leaders: Johnson 1-13; Allmendinger 14-40; Gilliland 41; Allmendinger 42-112; Truex Jr. 113-116; Logano 117; Sorenson 118-121; Labonte 122-126; Allmendinger 127-171; Johnson 172-267; Ku.Busch 268-269; Johnson 270-292; Ky.Busch 293-338; Johnson 339-362; Ku.Busch 363; Edwards 364-365; Johnson 366-400

Jimmie Johnson dominates Monster Mile, leaps to second in Chase 09/26/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 26, 2010 10:34pm]

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