|Johnson wins for record 8th time at Dover|
|Monday, September 30, 2013 12:20 AM|
By DAN GELSTON
DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson held off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. down the stretch to win for a record eighth time at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson had shared the mark of seven wins on the concrete mile with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty. Led by Johnson, the entire top 10 Sunday was made up of Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship drivers.
“To do anything that Richard or Bobby has done is quite an accomplishment,” Johnson said.
Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, who won the first two Chase races, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.
Earnhardt had one of the fastest cars but he missed pit road and gave up the lead early in the race. He had a strong enough No. 88 Chevrolet to get back into the race and contend for his first win of the season but couldn’t pass Johnson.
“We left everybody in the mirror. We were clicking off some laps,” Earnhardt said. “But just not fast enough to get to Jimmie.”
Kenseth kept his points lead even as he fell short in trying to become the first driver to win the first three Chase races. He holds an 8-point lead over Johnson as the Chase shifts to Kansas.
“I know that 20 is going to be awfully strong for the rest of the stretch,” he added.
Johnson dominated as he usually does at Dover and led 243 of the 400 laps to help extend his Chase record with his 23rd career win in 93 starts in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. He swept Dover in 2002 and 2009 and won races in 2005, 2010 and 2012.
Johnson has his sights set on a bigger piece of NASCAR history. He’s in the hunt for his sixth Cup championship, which would put him one behind Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for most in series history.
He caught a huge break when Earnhardt slowed during a green-flag pit stop and missed the entrance to pit road. He went from holding a 3.7-second lead on Johnson to trailing by more than 9 seconds after he finally made his stop.
Johnson took the lead — and took off. Even smart pit strategy that included a late four-tire stop wasn’t enough to boost Earnhardt past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“The mistake I made coming on to pit road and missing pit road completely (cost us),” Earnhardt added. “If I had not given up that track position and had a smart enough race to keep the lead when it counted, right at the end we might have won the race. It would have been hard to get by us just like it was hard to get by Jimmie. “
Kurt Busch has pit crew shakeup as Chase heats up: With the Chase heating up, Kurt Busch has a revamped pit crew at Dover.
Furniture Row Racing had four new crew members working on Busch’s No. 78 Chevrolet on Sunday. Busch entered the third Chase seventh in the standings, well behind leader Kenseth.
Busch has had a few strong shots at winning derailed this season because of miscues in the pits.
The crew members are from teams in Richard Childress Racing’s Nationwide Series program. Furniture Row and RCR share a technical alliance.
“The performance of the car has advanced quicker than the performance of the pit crew,” general manager Joe Garone announced. “Then you find yourself in the Chase and now competing in that upper group and we just haven’t been getting it done.”
With Busch aboard, team owner Barney Visser set the preseason goal of making the Chase. Busch, the 2004 champion, was one of the surprises of the season when he led one-car Furniture Row into the Chase.
Busch opened the Chase with a fourth-place finish at Chicagoland but a broken jack and a lengthy pit stop last week at New Hampshire spoiled his day and he was 13th. It was just the latest gaffe that forced Furniture Row to consider a change before it was too late to make a run at the championship.
“It’s not firing the guys, it’s bringing them back in, taking them off the road,” Garone added. “We just grabbed one of the Nationwide crews that have been having success on pit road. Just fresh guys that haven’t had the pressure on them quite the way it’s been on this group and just see if we can’t make something happen.”
Busch, who has 24 career Cup wins, is winless this season with nine top-5s.
MWR co-owner Kauffman unlikely to sponsor Truex: Martin Truex Jr. can scratch his team owner off the potential list of 2014 sponsors.
Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman all but ruled out that he would fund the sponsor-strapped driver. NAPA Auto Parts announced early this month it was ending its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of MWR at the end of the year in the wake of the Richmond cheating scandal. Truex, who was stripped of his Chase spot, faces an uncertain future as he scrambles to find a new deal.
“I would say that’s a relatively low probability,” of sponsoring Truex, Kauffman announced. “We could fill in a gap. We’re working on all kinds of options.”
Furniture Row Racing is in the mix for Truex after losing Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas Racing. Garone announced at Dover the organization had expressed interest in the veteran driver.
Kauffman, founder of the Fortress Investment Group and a racing enthusiast, saved MWR in 2007 when he bought into the organization and pumped in the cash Waltrip needed to stay afloat. Kauffman has answered the call at every level of Waltrip’s plan to grow the organization into one of NASCAR’s top teams.
Kauffman also founded RK Motors, which restores classic cars, and has stepped in to fill occasional sponsorship holes in the past. He was at Dover Sunday and a NASCAR track for the first time since the scandal hit. He returned from overseas to get MWR reorganized.
“The team made mistakes,” he said. “We made a lot of progress with Michael Waltrip Racing the past seven years. It’s obviously a big setback. We’ve paid a heavy price. Now, I’m focused on what do we need to change to improve.”
MWR driver Clint Bowyer learned Friday sponsor 5-Hour Energy decided to stick with embattled MWR through the 2014 season.
Aaron’s, sponsor of Brian Vickers for MWR, announced it remains dedicated to the organization.
Kauffman thanked the sponsors that stuck with the organization after it “put them in a difficult position.”
MWR was also fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and all three crew chiefs for its drivers were placed on probation for the rest of the year because of the manipulation of the Richmond race.
Kauffman called Norris a “valuable member” of the organization but refused to comment on his future role in the organization.
ESPN replaces longtime motorsports announcer Reid
BRISTOL, Conn. — ESPN says motorsports announcer Marty Reid is no longer with the network.
Reid had been with ESPN since 1982 and is the only television play-by-play announcer to cover five different North American motorsports series. He’s called NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series, as well as IndyCar and NHRA.
An ESPN spokesman says the network is going in a different direction and Allen Bestwick will call the remainder of the Nationwide Series races this season.
Reid was the network’s lead announcer for IndyCar and that position will be addressed later.
Reid erred during the Sept. 21 Nationwide Series race at Kentucky when he called the win for Ryan Blaney one lap shy of the finish. Bestwick called Saturday’s race at Dover instead of Reid.