DOVER, Del. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson held off a teammate, passed a pair of Hall of Famers, and dominated once more at Dover.
His slice of track history was more than just another milestone to tack on his bio.
His latest win at his favorite track put the Chase field on notice that his run at a sixth championship in the No. 48 is gaining steam. Johnson never let Dale Earnhardt Jr. catch him down the stretch Sunday and won 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.
“Truthfully, it was the first thought that went through my mind when I crossed the finish line,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t long after I thought about the impact of winning in the Chase.”
Johnson’s win bumped him from third to second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings. Matt Kenseth, who won the first two Chase races, holds an eight-point over Johnson as the Chase heads to Kansas for the fourth race.
Led by Johnson’s fifth win, the entire top 10 was made up of Chase drivers. Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Kevin Harvick, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.
“You’ve got to win when you’re at your best track,” Johnson said. “We had to win here today. I think any points on the 18 or 20 would have been a very good day. Max points, it’s an awesome day.”
Not so much for Earnhardt, who 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.
“For how bad I felt like we struggled with the car, that was a decent finish,” Kenseth said.
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.
He jumped a restart and served a pass-through penalty that cost him the win in the spring race.
Crew chief Chad Knaus brought the same car back for this one and, this time, Johnson was pretty much flawless.
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.
“Jimmie is probably the most underrated champion we have in this industry,” Knaus said. “He is by far and above the most powerful driver over the course of the last 25, 35 years in this sport.”
Johnson 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 for his 65th victory in 428 career starts. 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 said. “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.”
Other Chase driver finishes include, Kasey Kahne in 13th, Kurt Busch 21st, and Carl Edwards 35th. Edwards entered fourth in the standings but plummeted to 11th once a late tire issue sent him to the garage.
Most drivers insisted this weekend that it would not be a three-driver Chase. With seven races left, Kyle Busch is third and only 12 points back. But Harvick and Gordon are 39 points out, and Biffle and Newman are both more than 40 points behind.
It’s going to take major problems out of the top three and an improbable winning streak from some drivers in the back to shake up the standings.
Kyle Busch has a pair of seconds and a fifth to open the Chase.
“It’s certainly appealing and you could be happy with it,” he said, “but we’re a little disappointed at the same time.”