Surging Johnson adds historic win; more lessons from Monster Mile
Jimmie Johnson tied Richard Petty and Bobby Allison with his seventh Dover win
Johnson continued the dominance of Hendrick, which has won the last three races
After a strong stretch, Kyle Busch hit a bump in finishing 29th due to engine failure
The high-banked, concrete oval at Dover International Speedway is called the Monster Mile for good reason. But it was Jimmie Johnson that mastered the mile on Sunday as he continues his climb up the Sprint Cup standings.
While Johnson was able to defeat Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth in Sunday's race several big names endured problems in the 400-lap contest. So let's get right into the Five Things We Learned at Dover.
1. Jimmie Johnson has hit his stride after breaking a winless streak last month. Just one month ago, the big question in NASCAR was "What happened to Hendrick Motorsports?"
NASCAR's elite team was mired in a 16-race winless streak and stuck on win No. 199, until Johnson broke through with an impressive victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12. More importantly, it ignited both Johnson and the team to a hot streak that it continues to enjoy. Johnson would go on to win the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and teammate Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day.
Johnson continued that dominance at Dover by leading the final 76 laps to claim Cup win No. 57 and is establishing himself as a legitimate contender.
The five-time champion is now fifth in points, just 33 behind the leader, Greg Biffle, who finished 11th Sunday. Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammate Kenseth came in third and is just one point behind Biffle for the Cup lead.
Johnson also led 289 laps Sunday to move from eighth to third on the all-time Dover laps led list with 2,275 in just 21 starts and scored his seventh career win at the track to tie Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most victories at the 1-mile concrete oval.
"It's just a huge honor," Johnson said. "I'm never one that paid attention to stats. I truthfully never thought I would be a guy that would build up any cool stats and here I am with some pretty cool stats, with legends of our sport and guys that I've looked up to. I'm very proud of the effort and I know it's hard to give you a serious answer with this hair on right now, but very proud of the seven wins here and to be in that very elite company."
Johnson won't go so far to say this win has put him in the driver's seat for a sixth championship, but admits it will help his cause.
"It's just way too early to talk championship," Johnson said. "We are doing the things right now that will win one, but we need to do this in September and on. It's nice to have the success right now because the last two years, we have been working very hard in a lot of areas and when you have success and continued success, you narrow down your focus in where you need to be. I think things are very good for our company. We know the areas where we found some raw speed and now we are fine-tuning from there. So honestly, first of all, have to make the Chase. And I think two wins puts us in a very nice position."
Summer is here and so is Jimmie Johnson as he is getting hot at the right time to solidify his place as a championship contender worthy of a chance to win his sixth Cup title.
2. Harvick is closing in. Although he finished 2.550 seconds behind the race winner, Harvick is having another solid season that should put him in a great position during the key part of the race to the Chase.
"We had a solid race," Harvick said. "I made a mistake on pit road there and got us back to about 20th. The car was good enough to be able to drive back through the pack, and for whatever reason, we were able to adjust our car well today when we needed to and we were able to keep up with the racetrack and keep our car better through the day. And I think that was a big key to getting through the traffic and putting ourselves back in position to at least have a chance."
Harvick is always one of NASCAR's fiercest competitors as he attempts to give Richard Childress Racing its first Cup title since the late Dale Earnhardt won the 1994 championship.
3. Not a good day for last year's title contenders. Both last year's champ, Tony Stewart, and runner-up Carl Edwards had their share of issues with Stewart getting caught in a 13-car wreck on the back straightaway coming out of Turn 2, also known as Calamity Corner. Stewart ran into the back of Landon Cassill's car and the crash would bring out the red flag to stop the race.
Edwards was involved in a single-car crash on Lap 165 that sent him to the garage and out of the race.
"Our front right tire went flat," Edwards explained. "I don't know exactly why. This is such a fun racetrack and the car was so good. Our whole team had done a really good job so far and the hopefully we can get back out there and get some points. It is so frustrating to have that good of a car. I love racing here. We will come back and get them in the fall.
"The track is changing quite a bit. You can run all over it. You can run pretty much any of the lines. It is so much fun. It is just a blast. I am really frustrated our day got cut short."
Edwards finished 26th, while Stewart would return to the track but finished 25th. After a fast start, the three-time Cup champion has had bad finishes in three of the last four races as he was also 24th at Talladega and 25th in Charlotte.
4. Kyle Busch blows his engine and hit a bump in the road. When Kyle Busch dropped out of the race with a blown engine he finished 29th and that has hampered his 2012 effort in Cup. After driving to victory at Richmond at the end of April, Busch finished second at Talladega, fourth at Darlington and third last week in the 600. He was up to eighth in points before his engine failure at Dover and left the track in ninth.
Busch has the talent to be one of the top drivers in the series in 2012 but it's a matter of avoiding mechanical failures if he is going to have a legitimate chance to compete for his first Cup title.
5. Pit road remains hazardous -- and so is Kurt Busch. During a pit stop in the race, Clint Bowyer's Toyota blocked Ryan Newman's Chevrolet from leaving pit road so the only way Newman could get out was to go through Bowyer's pit area, nearly taking out the gasman for that team. While this is another indication of how pit road can be dangerous, the same can be said for anyone trying to interview Busch.
After Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Busch said in a TV interview that he believes some drivers are taking advantage of him knowing he cannot retaliate because he is on a season-long probation.
Bob Pockrass of Sporting News asked Busch after the race "Did it impact you, how you raced with Justin Allgaier, the fact that you're on probation?"
Busch shot back, "It refrains me from beating the [bleep] out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions. But since I'm on probation I suppose that's improper to say as well. If you could talk about racing things then we could talk about racing things, Bob."
Pockrass responded, "This is -- it's racing."
Busch said, "It is not racing. You're in this just to start stuff. You know that's all you are out here for."
Busch continues to have anger management issues. He confronted a reporter last September at Richmond, was involved in a feud with Johnson and when he cursed out Dr. Jerry Punch of ESPN after dropping out of the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it cost Busch his ride at Penske Racing. Now, NASCAR is considering discipline for Busch over this latest outburst.
This year, Busch is running the Nationwide Series for his brother Kyle and is driving in Cup for team owner James Finch. This was supposed to be the year that Busch tried to make racing fun again but it appears that Busch is taking all of the fun out of it.