Dover track fun place for Johnson to visit
Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012 7:00 pm
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
DOVER, Del. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson was the mane man at Dover.
Wearing an afro clown wig — tufts of green, red, yellow and blue could be spotted from the stands — Johnson had to admit it was hard to take him seriously while he played the role of race jester.
Some guys just have all the fun.
That especially includes on this track.
Johnson romped again at Dover International Speedway, racing his way into the track’s history books on Sunday with his seventh win on the concrete, matching the mark held by Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
No active driver owns the track like the five-time Sprint Cup champion. Johnson led 289 of the 400 laps and looked every bit like the driver who swept the two Cup races at Dover in 2002 and 2009. Johnson last won at Dover on Sept. 26, 2010. He also won the September 2005 race.
“God, I love this place,” Johnson said as he took a victory spin.
Then it was off to goof around in Victory Lane. Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and other Hendrick Motorsports crew members wore the wacky wig seen in the talking-animal movie, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”
They had good reason to clown around. Throw in the All-Star race and that’s a sweet four-race winning streak for NASCAR’s top organization.
Johnson won at Darlington Raceway and Kasey Kahne won the Coca Cola 600. Johnson also won the non-points All-Star race during that span as the No. 48 Chevrolet is heating up as he chases a sixth Cup championship.
“I’ve never been one to pay attention to stats,” Johnson said. “I just truthfully never thought I’d be the guy who’d build up any cool stats. Here I am with some pretty cool stats with legends of our sport and guys that I’ve looked up to.”
Johnson won his second race of the season — and first where he celebrated with a rainbow circus wig.
“I’m just proud of this hair,” Johnson said. “The hair brought some speed to the team.”
Petty needed 46 races to win seven times and Allison had 35 races. Johnson got to seven in his 21st start at the track known as the Monster Mile.
“You whipped ‘em today,” Knaus said over the radio.
Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Johnson’s win came about 390 miles after a massive 13-car accident ended weeks of mostly accident-free races and took out defending Cup champion Tony Stewart. Stewart eventually returned and finished 25th.
Johnson’s only real challenge for a stretch came from teammate Jeff Gordon.
The No. 24 was strong enough to lead 60 laps midway through the race and had perhaps the car to beat until a tire issue and an ill-timed debris caution combined to land him in 13th.
“It’s always more frustrating when you’ve got a car that can win and you show it by going up there and taking the lead,” Gordon said. “We don’t care about finishing top 15 or top 10 right now. That does nothing for us. We need wins.”
Maybe Gordon really did have the top car. But Johnson had the win.
Earnhardt joined his Hendrick teammates up front most of the race and posted his fifth top-five of the season. His losing streak stretched to 142 races, but he has only one finish outside the top 10 in his last nine races.
NASCAR’s most popular driver is back as a regular threat to win races.
“We are getting close,” he said. “We are finishing good when we are not winning. I can’t really complain too much about how we’re doing.”
Kahne followed his victory with a ninth-place finish to round out another stellar race for Hendrick.
Points leader Greg Biffle was 11th and holds a one-point lead in the standings over Kenseth heading into next week’s race at Pocono Raceway.
After weeks of lengthy green-flag runs in the Cup series, the cautions and accidents finally returned. Stewart, Landon Cassill and Regan Smith all connected to trigger the multi-car crash. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch also later were taken out of the race on separate incidents.
There were seven cautions in the race.
Johnson, who won his 57th career Cup race, took charge and led the final 76 laps, pulling away for good on a restart with 31 laps left.
There’s no Earnhardt-like streak in Johnson’s future. The wins will surely keep coming.
As for that wig?
“I don’t think this fits the M.O.,” a smiling Knaus said. “It’s going to be short-lived.”
Follow Dan Gelston on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/apgelston
Published in The Messenger 6.4.12