The triple header weekend was rounding off with the AAA Drive for Autism 400 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race at Dover International Speedway. Drivers buckled up and started their engines. Leading them all in his first pole position this season was Kyle Busch. After his disappointment at missing out on the win last week in the Coca-Cola 600, he was chomping at the bit to turn his recent top 3 finishes, into a win. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were close behind in row 3 of the line-up. It was a fast and challenging racetrack for this manic Monster Mile. The 24 degree banking would make sure drivers were running at hellish speeds, and the concrete surface would keep them on their toes once the green flag was in the air.
The man who’d be walking away victorious from this race though, was Jimmie Johnson with his 3rd win this season and 83rd career win. Both he and Larson battled endlessly for the sweet spot at the top – especially during the final Stage. It began with Larson on the pole for the start of Stage 3. He and Truex were side by side throughout the first lap. They put on a good show as they duelled it out. Johnson then stuck his nose into the equation and Truex had a huge slide and did an amazing job of not taking Larson out. Larson was now in the lead, ahead of Johnson and Truex.
With 144 laps to go, Johnson felt brave and made a move on Larson. Truex then made contact with Johnson and made Truex drop from 3rd to 4th behind Kenseth. With 40 laps to go, Larson was the new leader once again as he effortlessly plucked 1st off Ty Dillon. Johnson was close behind as Ty now dropped down to 3rd. With only 35 laps to go, Johnson was keeping Larson within spitting distance and was biding his time and patience before making the crucial move for the top spot.
Drivers came round to the restart with only a few laps to go and overtime was about to decide the outcome of the race. Larson was on the outside line of the front row for the restart, along with Johnson. Larson did not get the start that he’d have liked. That was no doubt incredibly frustrating for a driver who had led 241 of 406 laps. So, it was Johnson to the point ahead of runner-up Larson when a huge wreck ensued involving Jones, Ty Dillon, Allmendinger, Kahne and other drivers occurred. Seeing as the overtime line had been passed – the race could be called based on the running order around the point of wreckage.
It was Jimmie Johnson who won the race under caution for his 11th victory at the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway. Not only that, but this put him on the same level as Cale Yarborough who had also snagged 83 career wins . Behind him in the top 10 was Larson, Truex, Newman. Elliott, Suarez, McMurray, Hamlin, Harvick and Patrick. This was a happy day for the no. 48 driver, especially after he had started the race at the rear due to a gear change prior to the green flag.
Another driver worth mentioning was Martin Truex Jr. He has had a hugely successful season in terms of collecting driver points through an abundance of Stage wins. Dover was no different and saw him walk away with wins in both Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Speaking after the race, Jimmie Johnson had this to say:
“I never thought I would end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt out in Southern California. I was a big Cale Yarborough fan and I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s. I had no idea it was a burger stand, and I really thought when I walked in the door I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop. It was very disappointing. I had a burger and left and then understood the world of sponsorship. To be here and tie him at 83 wins is amazing. We just got the tribute helmet. I wasn’t sure how quickly we’d be there (at 83 wins), or if we’d be able to go there and get it done. But, Cale, you’re the man. Thank you for all you’ve done for our sport.”
Larson was also interviewed following the race:
“It was a good race for us. Obviously, I didn’t need that last caution. Yeah, I mean, Jimmie is the best of our time, probably the best of all time. He just has obviously a lot more experience than I do out on the front row late in races and executed a lot better than I did. I’ve got to get better at that and maybe get some more wins.”