Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Johnson's good hair day

DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson was the mane man at the FedEx 400.

Wearing a multicolored Afro wig — tufts of green, red, yellow and blue could be spotted from the stands — Johnson had to admit it was hard to take him seriously while he played the role of race jester.

But he romped again at Dover International Speedway, racing his way into the track's history books Sunday with his seventh win on the concrete, matching the mark held by Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.

No active driver owns the track like the five-time Sprint Cup champion. Johnson led 289 of the 400 laps and looked every bit like the driver who swept the two Cup races at Dover in 2002 and 2009. Johnson last won at Dover on Sept. 26, 2010. He also won the September 2005 race.

"I'm just proud of this hair," Johnson said of his wig. "The hair brought some speed to the team."

In Victory Lane, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and other Hendrick Motorsports crew members wore the wacky wig seen in the talking-animal movie, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which co-sponsored their car for the race.

They had good reason to clown around. Throw in the All-Star race and NASCAR's top organization has a four-race winning streak. Johnson won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600. Johnson also won the nonpoints All-Star.

"I've never been one to pay attention to stats," Johnson said. "I just truthfully never thought I'd be the guy who'd build up any cool stats. Here I am with some pretty cool stats with legends of our sport and guys that I've looked up to."

Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.

Johnson's win came about 390 miles after a 13-car accident ended weeks of mostly accident-free races and took out defending Cup champion Tony Stewart. Stewart returned and finished 25th.

Johnson's only real challenge for a stretch came from teammate Jeff Gordon. The No. 24 was strong enough to lead 60 laps midway through the race until a tire issue and an ill-timed debris caution combined to land him in 13th.

"It's always more frustrating when you've got a car that can win and you show it by going up there and taking the lead," Gordon said. "We don't care about finishing top 15 or top 10 right now. That does nothing for us. We need wins."

The 13-car pileup, which brought out a red flag, was Sprint Cup's biggest of the season. It happened on the ninth lap on the backstretch, triggered when Stewart made contact with Landon Cassill's left rear and sent him into the wall. Regan Smith rammed into Stewart, and nine cars plowed into them.

Smith and Stewart both took the blame. Smith said he didn't have time to slow and avoid Stewart. Stewart said it wasn't Smith's fault.

"(Cassill) was trying to get back down to the bottom, and we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Stewart said. "It wasn't Regan's fault. He was right behind us, and he didn't have anywhere to go, either. Just not a real good deal at the beginning of the race like this."

Cassill said he never felt Stewart touch him.

"When the (No.) 14 is behind me and he's going to make a pass, I'm going to let him go," Cassill said. "You want those guys to pass you. I hate it for Tony. I hate it for all the guys."

Caught up in the wreck were Juan Pablo Montoya, David Gilliland, Casey Mears, Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Dave Blaney, Scott Speed, Stephen Leicht, Reed Sorenson, and Joe Nemechek. Most cars did return to the track.

Smith finished 27th and Montoya 28th. Gilliland, Speed, McDowell, Mears and Nemechek never returned.

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