Jimmie Johnson becomes the first three-time winner in 2017, tying Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time Cup victories
No active driver has won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit at least 10 times besides Jimmie Johnson at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Now, not only Johnson won for the 11th time at Dover Sunday, he also tied his NASCAR idol and the series’ first three-peat champion Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time wins list with 83 victories.
Johnson passed Kyle Larson on the overtime restart after Larson came out of the gate slow, giving Johnson the advantage in turn one. As Johnson pulled away from Larson, mayhem happened.
Ty Dillon—who led a career-high 27 laps—was running in fourth when he went wide entering turn two.
It led to Ty going under Ryan Newman, moving Ty’s car to the right and slammed into the wall, causing a multi-car pileup. The wreck collected several drivers including his brother and last week’s winner Austin, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Erik Jones and Cole Whitt. All drivers were uninjured from the wreckage.
Johnson crossed the overtime line when the caution came out, ending the race under yellow for the first time this season.
In an interview with Fox Sports pit reporter Matt Yocum, Johnson said he never imagined tying his childhood hero after beginning his career in off-road racing.
“I never thought I would end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt out in Southern California,” Johnson said. “I was a big Cale Yarborough fan and I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and pulled up to a Hardee’s. I had no idea it was a burger stand and really thought when I walked into the doors, I was going into Cale’s race shop. It was very disappointing, I had a burger and left. I didn’t understand the world of sponsorship back then. But to be at Dover and tying him at 83 wins, it was an amazing day.”
After the interview, Johnson wore Yarborough’s No. 28 Hardee’s hat to cap off a historic day in Johnson’s already established but legendary career.
Johnson also wore a tribute helmet honoring Yarborough this weekend at the track Johnson has dominated since arriving in Cup full-time in 2002, including a sweep in his first two attempts at the Monster Mile.
Johnson is one victory away from tying Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fifth all-time in Cup wins.
Johnson’s historic quest to victory almost became obsolete as Larson had a 2.5-second lead on Johnson on lap 398 until a cut tire from David Ragan brought out a caution.
The caution sent the race into overtime where Johnson out beat Larson on the restart.
Larson—who led a race-high 241 laps—said Johnson had a better restart and couldn’t mount a charge after battling points leader Martin Truex, Jr. for second before the big crash on the backstretch.
“Jimmie did everything he needed to do to get the best launch that he did,” Larson said. “We were both playing games but he took off better than I did. I wasn’t complaining about the restart, he did a good job. He’s a seven-time champion for a reason. He has a golden horseshoe somewhere and he’s really good at executing, I have to get better at that.”
Larson said he fought hard all day, playing defense the whole race and felt he was quicker on two tires.
“On two left side tires when everyone else is on four, I led a lot of laps,” Larson said. “It needed to stay green at the end. I was a lot better than Jimmie was (on green flag runs) but he did better on the final restart than I did.”
In a post-race press conference interview, Johnson commented on the criticism of jumping the restart that gave him the momentum to win the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.
“I did everything I could to beat Kyle, I laid back and went forward,” Johnson said. “I laid back early and went forward late. Kyle was the leader, he’s supposed to jump first. I had to make sure I didn’t jump before him. When it mattered, I was ahead of him by a couple of inches. They can protest all they want, I’ve got the trophy.”
Larson trails Truex, Jr. by nine points after bouncing back from his first DNF at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway May 28.
Truex, Jr.—who continued his dominance this season, winning the first two stages—said he was proud of finishing third after losing a lap while pitting.
“I’m definitely proud with our finish,” Truex, Jr. said. “We got caught with a caution when we pitted and got trapped a lapped down and did the wave around. I had to drive through the field from the back. I thought we had a shot at the win until that happened. After that, we were playing catch up at a place that’s difficult to pass. We came from 15th and finished third so I’m proud of the effort and the car Furniture Row Racing brought today.”
The caution Truex, Jr. referenced took place on lap 331 when Regan Smith—filling in for the injured Aric Almirola for the second points race in a row—cut down a left front tire, trapping several drivers including Truex, Jr. a lap down.
Several notable drivers struggled at the 1-mile concrete circuit, including the Goliath teams.
Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski both failed to finish in the top-20. Logano finished four laps behind Johnson in 25th.
Keselowski was collected in a crash after Kurt Busch lost control in turn one. Busch’s car sent Keselowski into the wall, resulting another DNF for Keselowski and finished 38th of 39 cars.
Keselowski dropped from third to seventh in the standings.
Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer finished outside the top-30 with Busch exploding a left rear tire later in the race, the flat disintegrated his car and retired in 37th.
Bowyer finished 31st, 15 laps behind Johnson.
While two Stewart-Haas drivers struggled, the other two capped off the day with a top-10 finishes. Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick finished ninth and tenth respectively. It’s Patrick’s first top-10 finish since Bristol April 19, 2015.
Xfinity Series regulars Ross Chastain and Ryan Sieg made their Cup debuts, finishing 20th and 26th respectively.
Chastain’s 20th place effort gave Premium Motorsports its second top-20 finish this season, their first since the Daytona 500 Feb. 26 when Michael Waltrip finished eighth, the team’s only top-10 finish since Jay Robinson took ownership in 2014.
The Cup drivers travel to Pennsylvania and compete at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond for its first two stops of the season. Busch is the defending spring winner.
Weather factored into both races at the Tricky Triangle as both races were postponed to Monday morning instead of Sunday afternoon.