Jimmie Johnson dominated again in winning a crucial Chase race.
It’s become about as routine this time of year on the sports calendar as the start of the NFL season or the baseball playoff stretch drive. If he keeps driving like this, NASCAR can expect another regular fixture in November: Johnson hoisting the series trophy and celebrating a championship.
Johnson thumped the competition in the second Chase for the championship race, sweeping the season races at Dover International Speedway to accelerate his bid for an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup title.
“I’m pretty sure that dude is Superman,” runner-up Mark Martin said.
He was pretty super on the concrete in the No. 48 Chevrolet. If three championships weren’t enough to intimidate the rest of the Chase field, the way he won on Sunday should send another message: He’s just really getting going on a fourth.
“As far as sending a message, I hope it does,” Johnson said. “I hope people are worried.”
Johnson cut Martin’s points lead with the victory — his fourth of the year and 44th overall — in the second of 10 races in the Chase for the championship.
“I’ve seen that dude up close and I see why he’s so successful,” said Martin, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “He works harder at it than anybody else, I think, on the circuit.”
No winner of the second Dover race has ever gone on to win the Cup championship. If any driver can reverse that trend, it’s Johnson. Much as he did in May, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was out in front for the majority of the 400-mile race.
“I certainly hope that our performance today scares some people and affects them in a way that benefits us,” Johnson said.
Chase drivers took nine of the first 11 spots. Martin followed last week’s win at New Hampshire with a second-place finish. Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.
Matt Kenseth was the highest non-Chase driver at third.
Martin holds a 10-point lead over Johnson heading into next week at Kansas Speedway.
“This team is really on a roll right now,” Martin said.
Other Chase driver results saw Jeff Gordon finish sixth, Kasey Kahne was eighth, Tony Stewart ninth and Ryan Newman 10th. Carl Edwards was 11th, Greg Biffle 13th, Brian Vickers 18th and Denny Hamlin 22nd.
“It’s just two races,” Martin said. “I still say that there’s 12 in and 12 can win. It might be a challenge for a couple of the ones toward the end of the back.”
Johnson, who tire-tested in August at Dover, won from the pole. He led 298 laps when he won at Dover in May and added another 271 on the 1-mile concrete track Sunday. Johnson won for the fifth time at Dover.
“That’s right boys, maximum points! Thank you!” Johnson said over the radio.
Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus also won their 15th Chase race. No one is better down the stretch and it’s the main reason why the No. 48 team is going for its record fourth straight title.
“Our team is pretty easily motivated,” Knaus said.
Easy to see why. Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to win three straight championships and Johnson can move past him with more winning performances like this one over the final eight races.
Johnson was so far in front, he had no idea Joe Gibbs Racing driver Joey Logano was involved in an early accident that saw his No. 20 barrel-roll eight times down the concrete and result in the race being red-flagged. It looked scary, but the teenage Logano walked away and was fine.
“It just goes to show how safe these cars are,” Logano said.
Johnson, who won for the first time since July at Indianapolis, crushed Kenseth and the rest of the contenders off the double-file restarts and was never seriously challenged.
He’s in great position, but he’s still not in first. Even with the 10 bonus points for winning, Martin still holds a slim lead.
The 50-year-old Martin is the sentimental favorite for his first Cup championship and he’s in no rush to yield his spot atop the standings. His 1-2 finish in the first two Chase races proved he’ll be a major factor in the No. 5.
“I’m happy with the result,” Martin said. “We just missed it a little bit.”
It’s way too early in the Chase to rule out any driver as a contender for the championship, but the Hendrick powerhouse sure looks like it fields the teams to beat.
“They’re strong everywhere,” Hamlin said. “There’s no weakness to their race team at all.”
There not be a detectable weakness, but Biffle griped again that Johnson and Montoya had an unfair advantage because they were picked for the tire test. Biffle wanted all 10 Chase drivers to have a shot at testing, or none of them.
“Look at the guys that didn’t tire test. We ran terrible,” Biffle said. “It was a completely different tire (from May). It had us off our game right when we unloaded off the truck.”
Johnson’s tip to the rest of the field? Bring on the complaints.
“I hope people are talking about the fact that we tire tested and it’s wrong,” Johnson said. “All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn’t matter. We’ll keep our heads down, keep our blinders on and we’ll go to work.”
And maybe start clearing another spot in the trophy case.
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