Jimmie Johnson makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Dodge Dealers 400 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., on Sunday.AP photo
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson had a flat tire, fell a lap down and finished 14th at Dover International Speedway.
But when the defending Nextel Cup champion crossed the line, he radioed a congratulatory message to his crew: “This is how you win a championship.”
Yes, Johnson was aware his bumpy ride cost him the points lead Sunday.
But in salvaging a day that seemed destined for a dismal finish, Johnson said he believes his Hendrick Motorsports team laid the groundwork for a title run.
“What a wild one,” he said. “From my experience, we got that flat tire early and weren’t able to get the lap back, couldn’t catch the leaders. I mean, we were going to finish 29th — at best. But the guys kept working, and we raced our own race and pulled out a decent finish.
“Those are the kind of days that win championships.”
Johnson dropped to fourth in the standings but is only four points behind leader Jeff Gordon, his teammate.
“That’s leading one lap,” he said. “If we lead one lap, we’re back in the points. To leave Dover, after a day like that, in that position, is pretty impressive. You know, I suppose if we lose the championship by two points, I’ll look back and say ‘Dover cost us the title.’
“But right now, I feel pretty good about where we are at.”
Johnson’s Q&A with AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:
Q: Race winner Carl Edwards and teammate Matt Kenseth were really stout. The Roush cars lagged behind so much earlier this season in the Car of Tomorrow, so what do you make of their performance Sunday?
JJ: “The Roush guys were in a whole different race of their own on Sunday. You knew they’d get it figured out. They are a good company and you can’t keep them down. And it’s too unlike Matt to not be in the mix of things.”
Q: Denny Hamlin had some issues with Kyle Petty, and they had a confrontation after. Denny really took exception to it, and argued that in his two seasons, he’s not really driven over anyone. What’s your take?
JJ: “That’s the thing that surprised me. I have been impressed with Denny over the two years I’ve raced against him, because he has a good balance of points racing and aggression. I’ve always commended him for being as young as he is and the amount of composure he maintains. I’ve never had a run-in with him.”
Q: Lots of complaints after Dover about the Car of Tomorrow. What did you think?
JJ: “I don’t think there’s anything new to it. It’s the same stuff we have been fighting, and Dover just re-aggravated all of it.”
Q: Your wife made some T-shirts of your high school yearbook photo for your birthday last week, and you worried they might show up at the track. Any images of that senior year mullet show up in Dover?
JJ: “They didn’t. I don’t know how or why, but they haven’t yet made it to the track. Channy didn’t make that many, so it’s not like they are for sale or anything. But my crew and some friends have asked about them. Luckily, not that many exist.”
Q: I understand you are moving into a new apartment in New York City. True?
JJ: “Yeah, we’ve been moving this month and trying to get situated. We had been renting for quite a while and just closed on the place. And now we’re going through all the wonders of a new place.”
Q: Moving during the Chase? Who’s bright idea was that?
JJ: “I guess it’s something to keep my mind off of racing.”