DOVER, Del. - Jimmie Johnson, who is used to being in fast company, joined a special group Sunday.
Johnson dominated the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway, winning on the Monster Mile for the seventh time. The victory ties Johnson with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the lead in wins at Dover, one of the tour's toughest tracks.
Johnson led 289 of the 400 laps, including the final 76, and wasn't challenged over the closing miles. He led Kevin Harvick by 2.55 seconds at the finish.
Completing the top five were Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Unlike other recent events on the Sprint Cup circuit, the race was pockmarked by caution flags, giving Johnson's pursuers numerous chances to test him as the field was bunched for restarts. But Johnson protected the lead - then built on it - each time.
"The 48 (Johnson) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon, who raced well but finished 13th) were in a league of their own," Kenseth said.
Johnson added some "color" to the day by wearing a frizzy multi-colored wig advertising his sponsor - the Madagascar 3 movie - Sunday. He sported the cartoonish wig in driver introductions, in victory lane after the race and in the winner's media center interview.
"I'm just proud of this hair," Johnson joked. "The hair really brought some speed to the team. Just a fun day. Clearly, we had a fast race car and amazing pit stops."
After a sluggish season start, Johnson has moved into solid position to challenge for a sixth Sprint Cup championship, although he deflected such talk.
"It's just way too early to talk championship," he said. "We are doing the things right now that will win one, but we need to do this in September and on."
The race field was scrambled only nine laps into the event when turn-two contact between defending series champion Tony Stewart and Landon Cassill sparked a 12-car smashup - the biggest of the season to date. Cars and parts were scattered across the start of the backstretch, and NASCAR threw a red flag to make track cleanup easier and quicker.
Also involved in the crash were David Gilliland, Casey Mears, Stephen Leicht, Michael McDowell, Regan Smith, Reed Sorenson, Dave Blaney, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Speed and Travis Kvapil.
For Stewart, who has hit a valley as he tries to repeat last year's championship, it was the beginning of the end of what he called a "crappy weekend." After garage-area repairs, he returned to the track to finish 25th, gaining a position in the point standings but losing 14 points to series leader Greg Biffle.
Taking a big hit in points was Carl Edwards, who entered the race in 10th (the final Chase points qualifying spot) but dropped out of the top 10 - to 12th - after slamming the turn-two wall on lap 164 and finishing 26th.
Greg Biffle, who has led the point standings since the third race of the season, kept the lead but now is in front of Kenseth by only one point.
NOTES - Kurt Busch can't seem to avoid controversy. After Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Dover, Busch had a tense discussion with driver Justin Allgaier (they clashed during the race), then used profanity when asked questions by a reporter on pit road. A NASCAR official said Sunday the sanctioning body is "examining" the latest in a string of Busch incidents. Penalties could be announced this week. ... The Sprint Cup Series will move on to Pocono Raceway in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania for next Sunday's race, and the visit will be much longer than is typical. The 2.5-mile triangular track was repaved during the off-season, and a fresh coat of asphalt will greet drivers when they arrive on Wednesday - two days early. Because of the new surface, NASCAR has scheduled "test" sessions at the track Wednesday and Thursday before official practice begins on Friday. The new asphalt is expected to inflate speeds at an already fast track. ... Is Mark Martin, NASCAR's "ageless" driver slowing in his 50s? No. Martin won the pole for Sunday's race Saturday with a speed of 158.297. It was the 53-year-old Martin's 54th career pole. He finished 14th in Sunday's race.
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