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Johnson wins at Dover, cuts Martin’s Chase lead

Jimmie Johnson, lower left, celebrates with his crew in victory lane after he won the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del.


DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson dominated again in a Chase race, sweeping the season races at Dover International Speedway to accelerate his bid for an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup title.

Johnson cut Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin’s points lead Sunday with the victory — his fourth of the year and 44th overall — in the second of 10 races in the Chase for the championship.

“I’m pretty sure that dude is Superman,” Martin said. “I’ve seen that dude up close and I see why he’s so successful. He works harder at it than anybody else, I think, on the circuit.”

No winner of the second Dover race has ever gone on to win the Cup championship. If any driver can reverse that trend, it’s Johnson. Much as he did in May, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was out in front for the majority of the 400-mile race.

“I certainly hope that our performance today scares some people and affects them in a way that benefits us,” Johnson said.

Chase drivers took nine of the first 11 spots. Martin followed last week’s win at New Hampshire with a second-place finish. Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

Matt Kenseth was the highest non-Chase driver at third.

Martin holds a 10-point lead over Johnson heading into next week at Kansas Speedway.

“This team is really on a roll right now,” Martin said.

Other Chase driver results saw Jeff Gordon finish sixth, Kasey Kahne was eighth, Tony Stewart ninth and Ryan Newman 10th. Carl Edwards was 11th, Greg Biffle 13th, Brian Vickers 18th and Denny Hamlin 22nd.

“It’s just two races,” Martin said. “I still say that there’s 12 in and 12 can win. It might be a challenge for a couple of the ones toward the end of the back.”

Johnson, who tire-tested in August at Dover, won from the pole. He led 298 laps when he won at Dover in May and added another 271 on the 1-mile concrete track Sunday. Johnson won for the fifth time at Dover.

“That’s right boys, maximum points! Thank you!” Johnson said over the radio.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus also won their 15th Chase race. No one is better down the stretch and it’s the main reason why the No. 48 team is going for their record fourth straight title.

“Our team is pretty easily motivated,” Knaus said.

Easy to see why. Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to win three straight championships and Johnson can move past him with more dominating performances like this one over the final eight races.

Johnson, who won for the first time since July at Indianapolis, crushed Kenseth and the rest of the contenders off the double-file restarts and was never seriously challenged.

He’s in great position, but he’s still not in first. Even with the 10 bonus points for winning, Martin still holds a slim lead.

The 50-year-old Martin is the sentimental favorite for his first Cup championship and he’s in no rush to yield his spot atop the standings. His 1-2 finish in the first two Chase races proved he’ll be a major factor in the No. 5.

“I’m happy with the result,” Martin said. “We just missed it a little bit.”

It’s way too early in the Chase to rule out any driver as a contender for the championship, but the Hendrick powerhouse sure looks like it fields the teams to beat.

“They’re strong everywhere,” Hamlin said. “There’s no weakness to their race team at all.”

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