Sunday, September 27, 2009

Earning Their Own Spot In The History Books

Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson scored the win Sunday in Dover, sweeping the year’s races at the one-mile concrete oval and earning his fifth career victory there. Trailing teammate Mark Martin by only ten points leaving the Monster Mile, Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led No. 48 team look like they’re ready to write their own page in the history book this year.

“What a car, obviously,” a beer-drenched Johnson said as he exited his winning ride. “Yesterday we were struggling a little bit in practice, made some brake changes last night, got this Lowe’s Impala working right and just an awesome race car. Awesome day.

“Glad to go out and have a maximum points day, that’s what we needed to do,” Johnson went on to say.

On top of having a great points day, Johnson also tied the legendary David Pearson with five wins at Dover. The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet, along with Pearson, trail Bobby Allison and Richard Petty who both have seven victories at the speedway.

Not only was the 48 team able to earn the season sweep this year at Dover, they did so with two different cars.

“We came in here, obviously, after winning in the spring and we wanted to do really well,” winning crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We brought a different race car, a car we thought was going to be better than what we had in the spring and man I’m glad it worked out because I would have looked really dumb if it hadn’t. It’s a really neat thing we’ve got going on at Hendrick Motorsports – Mark finishing second, congrats to those guys and Alan Gustafson. They’re great competitors, a lot of fun to race against.”

No one in the field seemed to have anything for the 48 team today, but Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin was able to score the second-place finish when the checkered flag fell. Continuing his string of strong runs, Martin earned his fifth straight top-5 finish. Although he failed to lead a lap on the day, the 50-year-old veteran maintained his points lead heading to Kansas next week.

“We had a good handling car on the long run, it was just a handful on the restarts,” Martin said after the race. “I think we did really well by finishing second. We were just off a little bit and it really showed itself on the restarts, but we were off a little bit even on the long run even though we could get to where we could beat most of the crowd. We just didn’t hit it perfect. As competitive as it is I am very proud of how we hit it and what a great race that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team gave me.”

After failing to make the Chase for the first time since its inception, Matt Kenseth headed to one of his best tracks hoping for another bright spot in a forgettable season. Starting from 23rd, Kenseth did what he did best on Sunday, methodically working his way to the front. Becoming a factor late in the going, the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford came home in the third-spot, earning his first top-5 since the first Dover race sixteen races ago.

“This tire was really nice when you ran by yourself, but it made it really hard to pass for some reason,” Kenseth explained on pit road. “Mark would be two-, three-tenths faster than me and if you didn’t give a little bit it was a really and for people to pass today, very difficult to pass.”

Earning his best-career Dover finish and continuing his strong run, Juan Pablo Montoya brought the No. 42 Polaroid Chevrolet home in the fourth-spot. Moving up one spot in the Chase standings, Montoya is now sixty-five points behind Martin. Like other drivers, Montoya explained the double-file restarts favored the drivers in the outside line and that is what made the difference late in the going.

“Being on the outside was the way to go,” Montoya said following his third top-5 in four races. “We were fourth with two restart to go, jumped to second and we restarted second and dropped to fourth. The cars would take a couple laps to get going and on scuff tires it was a lot harder.”

The 400-mile race got off to a very wild start as there was major trouble following the first double-restart of the day. While the leaders sorted it out up front, the rest of the field jockeyed for position down the backstretch on Lap 31.

With the field stacking up, Joey Logano looked below Bobby Labonte as they headed into Turn 3. Labonte shut the door on the No. 20, causing the No. 14 of Tony Stewart to get in the back of his former ride. Logano went sliding through the grass and back up the track. Reed Sorenson had nowhere to go as Logano shot across his nose. With Martin Truex Jr. and Robby Gordon piling into the mix, Logano’s Toyota was sent tumbling down the banking, rolling a total of 7 ½ times. Climbing from his car unscathed, the 19-year-old driver admitted to being shaken by the incident, but all-in-all okay.

“That was the wildest ride I've ever been on,” Logano said after leaving the infield care center. “You can't go on a rollercoaster that comes close to that. I'm shaken.”

Sitting in his car under the red flag, Tony Stewart also admitted he was shaken up by the idea of sending his former car and young friend Logano on the ride of his life. Speaking from the cockpit of his car to ABC/ESPN commentator Dale Jarrett, Stewart said, “I don't know how to say sorry enough to Joey."

Not the most exciting of races to ever take place in the history of the Dover International Speedway, Sunday’s AAA 400 had its moments and proved one thing to everyone – Jimmie Johnson is still the man to beat. Mark Martin and Juan Montoya remained strong contenders, but failed to lead a lap on the afternoon. Johnson and Knaus know how to get the job done in the final ten races of the year and it appears they are on track to repeat…again. Tied with Cale Yarborough as the only driver with three-straight titles, the No. 48 are eager to become the first to do it four years straight.

There are eight more races in the Chase, so don’t give the 48 team the title yet. They still trail Martin in the standings and the other ten guys in the Chase are just as hungry. Six of the twelve Chase spots changed hands on Sunday and with the series headed to Kansas next week, the cream of the crop should once again rise to the top.

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