By Colton Wood
Jimmie Johnson had to travel through quite a bit of traffic, and even go six extra miles, to make some more history.
After starting from the rear of the field following a rear gear change, Johnson made his way up through traffic, was second during the final green-white-checkered restart, then outdueled Kyle Larson to the overtime line before a final wreck froze the field to secure the victory in Sunday’s “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at a sun-splashed Dover International Speedway.
It was Johnson’s record 11th career victory at the Monster Mile, and the 83rd of his career, tying Cale Yarborough on NASCAR’s all-time list. Yarborough’s likeness was on Johnson’s helmet during the race.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion joins Richard Petty (Martinsville 15, North Wilkesboro 15, Richmond 13 and Rockingham 11) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol 12, Martinsville 11) as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win 11 or more times at a single track.
“We had a fast car,” Johnson said. “We had to overcome quite a bit of adversity throughout the day, but still had a great car and honestly, it all came down to a restart and I was able to get the power to the ground. I knew it was going to be extremely tricky on old, hot, worn-out tires and I just got a better restart the way it turned out.”
Johnson, in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet, led just seven of the 406 laps overall, but was able to pass Larson on the final restart following a caution on Lap 398 for David Ragan’s accident in Turn 2. Larson, in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, led a race-high 241 laps.
“[Second-place finishes] are always disappointing, but you got to be proud of the car that your team brought here and proud of the effort I put in,” Larson said. “I feel like that’s as hard as I raced for the lead ever in Cup and almost got the win, so happy how the race went — just would like one spot better.”
Johnson began the day in the back after his crew chief Chad Knaus made the call to switch gears on Saturday night.
“Over the course of my career, I think we only had four or five gear failures,” Knaus said, “and if you really start to look at that, the races that we had at Hendrick Motorsports and what we’ve done, that’s a pretty small percentage. So we’ll take that one on the chin if we need to.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Martin Truex Jr. finished third after leading 102 laps at his hometown track. Truex also won the race’s first two stages.
“We had a really good car all day, good track position,” Truex said. It seemed like if we could get the lead, we could drive away from them and hold the lead, but it just didn’t work out for us today.”
Ryan Newman finished fourth and Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.
Polesitter Kyle Busch had a tire miscue on pit road following the first caution on Lap 18 and finished 16th, one lap down.
Several contenders had short days, as Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. suffered crippling damage from separate accidents and Ryan Blaney broke an axle and finished 33 laps down in 32nd.
Daniel Suarez was the top rookie, finishing a career-high sixth after starting third.
“I love this place,” Suarez said. “This is one of my favorite racetracks for sure. … I just enjoy racing here a lot. It’s one of the places that are very tough for you mentally and physically.”
After the end of Stage 2, Larson reclaimed the lead from Truex after a quick pit stop. With just more than 70 laps left in the final stage, Larson forfeited his lead after making a stop under green.
A number of cars, including rookie Ty Dillon, Newman and Johnson, did not pit under green before Regan Smith brought out a caution on lap 329.
Dillon was the quickest off of pit road and restarted first while many cars took the wave-around after pitting under green.
Dillon led for 27 laps — fighting off Johnson and Larson — before Larson climbed back in front at Lap 361. Larson stayed out front until the final restart, when Johnson made his run to history.