Jimmie Johnson is now tied with Cale Yarborough.
Johnson sprinted ahead of Kyle Larson on a restart with two laps to go and was ahead on the backstretch past the overtime line as a huge crash started behind the leaders.
Johnson was declared the winner because he was ahead at the moment of caution. After a fiasco finishing the 2015 fall race at Talladega, NASCAR changed the rules to end races before the beginning of the 2016 season and installed a line on the backstretch. If the race was in overtime — past its scheduled distance — and the leader of the race was between the overtime line and the white flag when a caution came out, the race would be declared over.
It’s the first time the overtime line has come into play in the Cup Series.
The victory is Johnson’s 11th at Dover — the most of any driver — and the 83rd of his career. It ties him with Yarborough for sixth-most all-time in the Cup Series and puts him one victory away from tying Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip with 84 wins.
“I was a big Cale Yarborough fan and I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother,” Johnson said. 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.”
Larson had the race’s dominant car but spun his tires on the final restart as he started alongside Johnson. The crash started as Ty Dillon got loose and spun on the backstretch, collecting numerous cars behind him.
I tried taking off not using a lot of throttle and still spun my tires pretty bad,” Larson said. “I knew we were both probably going to spin pretty bad, but I wasn’t getting great launches all day. I was always having to fight people off into Turn 1 when I was the leader.”
Dillon spun as the field entered a patch of track that was still littered with drying agent from David Ragan’s crash. Ragan crashed with less than five laps to go to set up the overtime restart and his car littered the track with fluid. Before Ragan’s crash, Larson was cruising to what would have been his second victory of the season.
It was blatantly obvious the track wasn’t clean on the final restart as a billow of dust was created as cars flew through the backstretch at speed before the crash. You can see in the picture below that Dillon’s car is loose as it hits the dust cloud.
“We had to restart fourth on old tires and I just think the air off [Ryan Newman] got me a little loose and they left a bunch of sand there off Turn 2 and as soon as I got loose and hit that sand it was all over,” Dillon said.
The caution after Ragan’s crash was even extended a lap so that track workers could continue to clean up the track.
The circumstances of Johnson’s win are sure to incite a debate over the usefulness of the overtime line. Before 2016, NASCAR would have attempted to restart the race again for another two-lap shootout. That would have given Larson (and others) another shot at Johnson.
Johnson was ahead of the overtime line as Dillon spun Sunday.
After the ridiculousness at Talladega less than two years ago, the overtime line was seen as a happy medium between a potential of three two-lap restarts and finishing a race under caution. But after it was put into practice for the first time today, it’s clear that it needs some tweaking simply because of the subjectivity and human element of NASCAR’s caution calls.
It’s impossible for NASCAR to call a caution as soon as a car spins. And because of that fact, it’s easy to see how a leader could be approaching the overtime line as a car spins behind him. But because of the delay between the spin and the caution call, the leader could get to the line before NASCAR turns the caution lights on.
Perhaps the best solution would be to revert back to the previous three-restart maximum rule at all tracks outside of Daytona and Talladega. And it would be a good idea to clean tracks better too.
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