DOVER, Del. – With double-digit wins under its belt at the track, the No. 48 team always heads to Dover International Speedway with confidence that it can end up in Victory Lane.
A gear change before Sunday’s race simply made the job more difficult.
It meant Johnson would have to take the green flag from the rear of the field.
“We'd much rather start in the top five or on the pole and have the races go seamless, but is it fun to start last and win the race? Yeah, it is,” No. 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus said. “It's pretty cool.”
And that’s exactly what Johnson did, finding the top five before even the 120-lap Stage 1 was complete.
He kept working from there, and ultimately it was the team’s pit road strategy that paid the biggest dividends, allowing Johnson take over the race lead when he remained on the track late in the race while many other competitors made green-flag pit stops only to see a caution flag fly with the No. 48 team up front.
“I've always been better at passing people – I think our stats from qualifying versus race wins really show that,” Johnson said. “It's frustrating, we live in an environment where qualifying needs to be a priority to get better pit stall picks, but you put that rabbit out in front of me and I'll chase it down. It's just the way I've always been.”
With the laps winding down, it looked as if Johnson would settle for a runner-up result, and the driver even acknowledged that thought crossed his mind. Then, a caution flag forced the race to overtime, and Johnson recalled saying to himself, “Here we go, here’s our chance.”
Lining up second for the final restart, he used the inside line to push his way back out front and captured the win when a multiple-car incident signaled the end of the race after Johnson had crossed the overtime line.
“It's not exactly how we wanted the day to play out,” Knaus said. “We wanted to go up there and just take it and run away with it, but being in position and allowing Jimmie to have the opportunity to get after it on that last restart, you know, honestly that's what it's all about.”
The win tied Johnson with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time wins list, and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick was happy to see it go the organization’s way.
“This was probably one of the most competitive races I've seen, and we've lost a lot of them on restarts and were able to pull one off today,” Hendrick said. “So, it was a great day.”