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Johnson goes to the outside at Dover

June 04, 2012, Mark Aumann,

DOVER, Del. -- 'Personal preference' helps winner find success on restarts in the outside lane

Sometimes the shortest distance between two points isn't the fastest route.

Jimmie Johnson proved that in winning Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway. He chose the outside lane on every restart.

"[These were] the greasiest restarts that I've ever felt here. There was just zero grip for the first three, four or five laps."


He couldn't explain why, other than personal preference.

"The All Star Race in Charlotte, I was convinced the outside was the place to be," Johnson said. "And [crew chief Chad Knaus] was like, 'Look, everybody on the inside has won the race to Turn 1 and had no one outside of him and was in the lead.'

"So each week it changes. This week, I just had a good rhythm out there and kept that up and made it work."

But nobody else seemed to have similar success, particularly when stuck on the inside. The odd cars were definitely the odd men out, more often than not.

Sixth-place finisher Aric Almirola was one of those at least twice in the late going.

"The inside [lane] on the restarts was terrible," Almirola said. "I got pinned down there a couple of times on those late restarts and finally, that last restart, I started in sixth and could hold my own. Restarts were tough."

One theory as to why the inside lane was bad news? Jeff Gordon thought it had to do with a greasy track.

There were several blown engines during the race, including the cars of David Reutimann, Kyle and Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton. That, combined with the rubber laid down as the race progressed, might have added to the degree of difficulty.

"[These were] the greasiest restarts that I've ever felt here," Gordon said. "There was just zero grip for the first three, four or five laps. So you really couldn't even race one another on a restart because you were so out of control.

"And there's a lot of rubber laid down on the race track, and then the way the rubber on the tires matched up -- after you got going there -- was horrendous. Other than that, the tire was awesome. I really liked it. We ran great with it, and the restarts were definitely hairy."

Restarts were kind and cruel to Matt Kenseth, who finished third. Kenseth took advantage of the slower, lower groove to work his way up to second. But when faced with the inside lane himself, Kenseth had a hard time keeping up with the Johnsons.

"A couple cars would get by you every time," Kenseth said. "I was able to get back by [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] in that last restart starting behind Jimmie.

"It's always kind of like that. It's not necessarily which lane you're in, it's just the leader dictates when you go and can't go until he does. ... By the time he gets going, you recognize that and try to get going, [but] he's already pulling away from you."