Jimmie Johnson once again showed the Sprint Cup Series why he is the three-time defending champion. The Hendrick Motorsports driver not only crossed the finish line first, he dominated the race as he led the most laps on his way to his fourth victory of the season and first of the 10-race Chase.
Johnson entered the race second in points and still finds himself there after points leader Mark Martin finished second on Sunday, but a closer look at the point totals show that Johnson is doing the things that it takes to win the title. Johnson dominated the race by leading 271 of the 400 laps compared to Martin who, even though he did exactly what he needed to do to keep his lead by finishing second, didn’t lead a lap during the race.
By being the lap leader for the race, Johnson was able to capitalize on the series bonus point system which awards 5 points to every driver that leads at least one lap and an additional 5 points to the driver that lead the most laps. That brought his point total for the race to 195 (185 points for the win) compared to Martin who was awarded 170 points for finishing second.
Johnson’s win was also his 44th of his career that tied him with Bill Elliott for 14th on the all-time win list. It was his 15th Chase race win in the 52 races that have been held since its inception in 2004.
Besides Johnson and Martin, the majority of drivers competing for the series title also left Dover with good finishes as nine of the first 11 spots went to Chase drivers. The three drivers finishing outside of the top 11 were Greg Biffle (13th), Brian Vickers (18th) and Denny Hamlin (22nd).
The points after Sunday show that if a driver falls behind early in the Chase, the path to the top becomes painfully slow and difficult. Kasey Kahne who entered Dover in 12th trailing the leader by 161 points finished in eighth but still lost ground to the leader. Kahne now goes to Kansas still in the final Chase slot but is now 189 points from the top.
CHASE NOTES: Six Chase drivers have posted wins at this week’s stop on the schedule at Kansas Speedway with Jeff Gordon leading the list with a couple of wins. Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman have visited victory lane once. Gordon also has the best finishing average of all the Chase drivers with a 9.8 average finish, but is closely followed by Biffle with a 9.9. Johnson is third at 10.4 but leads all active drivers at Kansas with an average starting spot of 4.9 that is just over 5 spots better than Gordon in second with an average start of 10th. Johnson also leads not only the Chase field but also all active drivers in number of laps led at the track with 251.
PIT NOTES: This week’s stop at Kansas Speedway will be another audition for the track as it hopes to gain a second race on future Sprint Cup schedules. Next year’s schedule has already been released with Kansas having its usual one race but it appears that its owner International Speedway Corporation will petition NASCAR to realign the schedule in 2011 to include a second date for the track. ISC has joined with Penn National Gaming in an agreement to build a Hollywood-themed casino and entertainment destination at the Kansas track that should attract more tourism and tax dollars to the area. Since ISC says it will petition NASCAR to realign the schedule, a race date must be moved from one of its other 12 tracks that host Sprint Cup events. The three tracks that may be in the most danger of having to give up a race are Auto Club Speedway in California, Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. Auto Club can’t sell tickets and doesn’t produce very good racing. Martinsville’s location and aging facility, in spite of producing some of the best racing on the entire schedule, may not be enough to save it from giving up one of its races. Phoenix’s facilities are also lacking, which puts it in a precarious position when trying to hold on to a second race. The bottom line with ISC and NASCAR as always is money and with a new casino to go along with the modern track at Kansas, there seems to be a second date headed to the Midwest track in the not-so-distant future.
Race Preview — Event: Price Chopper 400. Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile oval, 15 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Oct. 4, 2:15 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.