Johnson looms in Chase, can continue Dover dominance
It's an annual affair. Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup season comes around, and as usual, Jimmie Johnson can be found at the top of the pack.
Two races into the Chase, Johnson sits quietly at fourth on the Grid. That was not a typo, quietly.
Maybe his performance is just expected. Even a casual stock car racing fan would guess the defending Chase winner would be getting some more hype. After all, he is trying to join Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt at the pinnacle of the sport as the only seven-time series champions. But Johnson’s quest for NASCAR immortality has been overshadowed lately by the performance of Team Penske and the career renaissances of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Expect that to change this weekend.
Johnson heads into the final Challenger Round race at Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET on ESPN), a site where he has been more dominant than any active driver by a landslide. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driver owns a track-record nine wins, five more than the next highest active driver (Gordon). In 25 starts at the track, Johnson also owns 13 top fives, 18 top 10s and an otherworldly 122.5 driver rating.
“I love Dover,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the best tracks for this Lowe’s/Kobalt team. I think it goes back to my off-road days, this track just suits my driving style.”
Winner of the last two races at the Monster Mile, Johnson will attempt to match David Pearson, Rusty Wallace and Gordon as the fourth driver to notch three consecutive victories at the one-mile concrete oval. He will also try to sweep the track for the first time since 2009 when he achieved the feat on the way to his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
After a month-long, five-race summer swoon when he finished worse than 38th three times and failed to register a showing better than 14th, Johnson has logged five top 10s in his last six starts. He can advance to the Chase’s Contender Round regardless of how other drivers fare with a Dover performance of 24th or better, 25th and at least one lap led, or 26th and the most laps led.
The 39-year-old has traditionally run well at Chase tracks. In addition to Dover, he leads active drivers in wins at Charlotte and Martinsville – both of which come in a different Chase round.
Regardless of past success, Johnson is focused on the now.
“It’s awesome to have tracks that you love and tracks that you’ve had success at in the Chase and I feel like seven or eight of them have been historically awesome tracks for us,” he said. “That part is great. Stats are nice to look at, but you have to live in the present. Just because we’ve been good at those tracks before doesn’t guarantee us anything going back.”