Jimmie Johnson slays the Monster
DOVER, Del. -- If you missed the first 10 laps of the show, this race looked a lot like the trend this season -- pretty clean, mostly green, a dominant winner and a bad-luck moment for Jeff Gordon.
The Duke of Dover, the man you know as Jimmie Johnson, was the Monster Mile master again.
He won going away for his seventh career victory on the treacherous 1-mile concrete oval. Johnson tied Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most Dover victories, yet another example of Johnson's greatness to add to the record book.
JJ's stellar effort, however, probably isn't what people will remember about this race.
The big wreck, that multicar, sheet metal-sheering moment that hasn't happened much this season, came Sunday before most spectators had a chance to settle into their seats.
You don't mess with the Monster, which a dozen drivers experienced on Lap 9 in the biggest wreck of the season. A 12-car pileup brought out a 20-minute red flag.
A split second later, Regan Smith's car ran into the side of Stewart's Chevrolet, which caused both those cars to spin to start a chain reaction of wrecking cars behind them.
The track was blocked with mangled race cars, which forced NASCAR to throw a red flag. So for those of you who've missed the fender banging this season and complained about boring races, this wreck's for you.
When green-flag racing returned, it was back to basics in the 2012 Sprint Cup textbook: One guy led a lot of laps, many of them without being challenged. Johnson led 289 of 400 laps, including the final 76.
But here's where this race was different: Johnson said he didn't have the best car, and Gordon agreed with him. Gordon was in front with 100 laps to go when, suddenly, he started to fall back.
"Something is weird," Gordon told crew chief Alan Gustafson. That weird feeling was a loose left rear wheel, a lug-nut mistake on the previous pit stop.
Gordon had to pit off sequence under green with 75 laps to go. He never recovered, finishing 13th.
"We had the best race car," Gordon said. "We keep talking about this too many times. We can't afford to make mistakes, especially as good as Jimmie was today.
"But we had the car to win the race and something happened again. I'm just tired of these same old things, something getting us when we have the best car out there. We put ourselves in that position and paid the price. We should've won this race."
Johnson, wearing a ridiculous rainbow-colored Afro wig for a movie promotion, saw it the same way.
"I had an amazing Chevy today," Johnson said. "But the 24 [Gordon] was the car to beat. In that middle stint, they just drove away from us. But it shows how much of a team sport NASCAR is. Last week we made a mistake in the pits that cost us. This week [Gordon] did. It looked like he had us covered, but I realize it's hard to take me seriously in this wig."
I'm just tired of these same old things, something getting us when we have the best car out there. We put ourselves in that position and paid the price. We should've won this race.” -- Jeff Gordon
Everyone better take him seriously. Johnson and all of Hendrick Motorsports are on a roll. It's hard to believe less than a month ago everyone was wondering when the Hendrick boys would end their slump and finally get boss Rick Hendrick that 200th win.
Now the organization has won three consecutive races -- two by Johnson and one by Kasey Kahne. And it's four in a row if you count JJ's All-Star Race victory.
Other than Gordon's continuing misfortune, Hendrick's drivers are flying. Kahne finished ninth Sunday, his seventh consecutive top-10.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth, his fifth top-5 of the season and his eighth top-10 in the past nine races.
"Man, I ran as hard as I could run today,'' Earnhardt said. "I had nothing left."
As for that elusive win (almost four years now without one): "We're getting close," he said.
Earnhardt is third in the season standings, only 10 points behind leader Greg Biffle, who finished 11th on Sunday. Matt Kenseth, Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammate, finished third at Dover (Kevin Harvick was second) to pull Kenseth within one point of Biffle.
"We struggled finding the balance we needed today," Kenseth said. "We got the car where we could keep up with everyone at the end except the 48 [Johnson] and the 24."
No one can keep up with Johnson right now, unless it's one of his teammates. Johnson is back to his rear-kicking self, looking a lot like a guy who could win a sixth Cup championship.
The thought of that may bore some of you, but the start of this race was anything but boring.
In case you missed it, dangerous Dover produced that old-Bristol or Talladega-style crazy moment. And afterward, the Hendrick boys put on a clinic, with Johnson and the 48 Chevy team showing they still can be the best of the best.