Jimmie Johnson raced to victory at the 2014 edition of the FedEx 400 on Sunday to help vault himself up the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
For the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, the triumph is his second in a row after emerging victorious at the Coca-Cola 600 last weekend. Team Lowe's Racing captured the magnitude of Sunday's checkered flag:
Johnson—thanks to win No. 9 at Dover—is now the winningest driver at the track in history. As for his place in the standings, let's just say he is in the midst of a quality upswing:
|2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr||429||-34||1|
*Check NASCAR.com for the full standings.
Let's get the top dog out of the way first.
The six-time and reigning champion needed 12 races this season to record his first victory, but, given his current form, it's hard to tell if Johnson will lose again.
Johnson stole the lead from Matt Kenseth about halfway through the proceedings on Sunday and never looked back. ESPN's Matt Willis puts into perspective the scope of Johnson's dominance at Dover:
Suffice it to say, Dover was pegged by many as the place Johnson was going to turn things around. The sport's most dominant racer did so a week in advance, and now he has to be the favorite to win it all, given his sheer dominance over a loaded field two weeks in a row.
What a horrible day for Jeff Gordon.
Not only did Gordon lose his No. 1 overall slot in the standings to Kenseth, thanks to his 15th-place finish, but retirement questions are also sure to only increase after a sloppy day.
Days before the race, Gordon admitted to reporters that back pain would cause him to consider retirement:
If I don’t stay loose and ice and do other things that keep me loose when I get to the race weekend, what happened could possibly occur again.
That’s the biggest thing I’m focused on, I’m not thinking or focusing on anything else (like retirement). I can tell you that if that happens many more times, I won’t have a choice.
Cue more frantic retirement talk.
Gordon has just one win on the season and is rapidly losing what was previously rather strong footing in the standings. If health truly turns out to be an issue while Johnson is just beginning his tear, Gordon may take a significant tumble in the coming weeks.
Give credit to Kenseth—he has exactly zero wins on the season, but that has not stopped him from overtaking some of the best drivers in the sport on the leaderboard.
It's hard to blame Kenseth for only leading 17 laps on the day in the wake of Johnson's performance, especially when remembering he started 21st.
His lead after passing Kevin Harvick on lap No. 165 after a restart was brief, but glimpses of a contender in Kenseth were certainly apparent yet again. It's clear Kenseth will hang around in most races, but his ability to seal the deal will determine whether or not he can continue to hold the top spot on the leaderboard.
Remaining NASCAR Schedule
|Schedule after FedEx 400|
|Sunday, June 8||1 p.m. ET||Pocono 400||TNT|
|Sunday, June 15||1 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans 400||TNT|
|Sunday, June 22||3 p.m. ET||Toyota - Save Mart 350||TNT|
|Saturday, June 28||7:30 p.m. ET||Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts||TNT|
|Saturday, July 5||7:30 p.m. ET||Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola||TNT|
|Sunday, July 13||1 p.m. ET||Camping World RV Sales 301||TNT|
|Sunday, July 27||1 p.m. ET||Crown Royal Presents You Hero's Name Here 400 at the Brickyard||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 3||1 p.m. ET||GoBowling.com 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 10||1 p.m. ET||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 17||1 p.m. ET||Pure Michigan 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, August 23||7:30 p.m. ET||Irwin Tools Night Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 31||7:30 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||ESPN|
|Saturday, September 6||7:30 p.m. ET||Federated Auto Parts 400||ABC|
|Sunday, September 14||2 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 21||2 p.m. ET||Sylvania 300||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 28||2 p.m. ET||AAA 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 5||2 p.m. ET||Hollywood Casino 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, October 11||7:30 p.m. ET||Bank of America 500||ABC|
|Sunday, October 19||2 p.m. ET||Geico 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 26||1:30 p.m. ET||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 2||3 p.m. ET||AAA Texas 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 9||3 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 16||3 p.m. ET||Ford EcoBoost 400||ESPN|
Looking Ahead to Pocono
With Sunday out of the way, it's time to kick off a fan-favorite with the Pocono 400 race week:
Pocono is one of the unique events of the NASCAR calendar thanks to its strange three-turn layout. The Tricky Triangle has some slight changes this year, though, as executive vice president and COO Nick Igdalsky explains, via Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com:
Hitting the curb bounces you out back to the right and back into traffic. So now they have a … viable escape route. It gives them an opportunity to run more comfortably and a few miles (per hour) faster. … It keeps the field a little tighter in (Turn) 2, which was the choke point. By doing that, hopefully that translates to more consistently closer finishes down the front straightaway.
While the impact of the changes to the unique course will have a currently undetermined effect on drivers, there is one constant: Johnson is the favorite by a long shot over the course of the 160 laps.
Johnson led 128 laps a year ago in Pennsylvania and cruised to an easy victory. Three in a row and another leap up the standings is certainly not out of the question, given Johnson's prior dominance of the track and current form.