Jimmie Johnson: Monster slayer


DOVER, Del. -- Some of Jimmie Johnson's worst- and best-kept secrets were revealed on Sunday. The six-time Sprint Cup champion remains on another plane of performance at Dover International Speedway. And the laparoscopic hernia surgery he underwent in December doesn't look like it's going to leave a scar on his latest title defense.

"We can get on a roll," Johnson said after winning his second consecutive race of the season and record ninth at Dover. "We've got some good tracks ahead for us. I think that tracks really build momentum for teams and drivers, and going to Charlotte is a great track, here is a great track for us, Pocono next weekend is [crew chief Chad Knaus'] favorite racetrack, and I think you can look ahead at the summer months and see who historically runs well at different tracks and kind of pick your favorites.

"It certainly has been that way for us. The tracks we've been bad at, we've gone there and been embarrassed by our performance, and then the tracks that are good to us still have been good to us."

Dover was quite good to him, yet again.

Johnson was impressive on Sunday, leading seven times for 272 of 400 laps, and setting a new record for turns led (3,074) at the 1-mile concrete venue. Starting fourth, he watched Kyle Busch lead the first 81 laps before swiping the top spot. But on Lap 125, one of the few drivers with seemingly any chance of denying Johnson was eliminated from the race, as the No. 18 Toyota was chopped down on by Clint Bowyer, apparently on poor advice from his spotter, forcing Busch into the wall during a battle for third place. Busch, who was attempting to win the Truck, Nationwide and Cup races at the same track in the same weekend for the second time, finished 42nd.

"I hated to be in that situation with the [Busch]," Bowyer said. "It's one of those deals where I thought I was clear, obviously, and wasn't and ruined his day and certainly didn't help mine."

The rest of the race became an exercise in managing cautions, restarts and fuel, and Johnson excelled in every facet. And the Johnson good fortune that  Kevin Harvick once described as a "golden horseshoe" returned, as the only other car Knaus felt could win the race, the car against which the team had gauged itself all season -- ironically, Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet -- became a nonfactor after leading 24 laps when a valve stem failure relegated the two-time winner to 17th place.

Knaus and spotter Earl Barban both fumed when debris cautions twice interrupted lengthy runs at the point, during which Johnson opened as much as a three-second lead -- but each time Johnson roared off on restarts. Pole sitter Brad Keselowski was the last with a chance, but could keep up with Johnson only for the first few corners of a restart with four laps remaining.

Keselowski finished second, .885 seconds back, followed by Matt Kenseth, Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.

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