Johnson feels at home at Dover track

Monster Energy driver Jimmy Johnson talks with his crew in the garage at Dover International Speedway in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — For Jimmie Johnson, perhaps there is no better way to cure a winless streak than with a trip to the Monster Mile.

Johnson, the record-holder for most victories at Dover International Speedway with 11, is seeking his first win since early 2017 as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series arrived in Dover this weekend ahead of Sunday’s Gander 400 (2 p.m.).

Johnson’s winless streak is now at 69 races — the longest of his career.

Jimmie Johnson signs autographs after the Gander RV 400 qualifying at Dover International Speedway on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

So a trip to Dover, a track Johnson and the No. 48 team have owned since he arrived in the Cup Series, is a welcomed sight.

“I’m optimistic and certainly very happy to be at a track that I love so much,” Johnson said Friday in the media center. “I feel like we can hopefully string together a couple of really strong weeks here.”

The last time Johnson won a Cup Series race was at Dover in June of 2017. Since then 18 different drivers have won a Cup race but not Johnson.

Johnson went winless in 2018 — the first time in his 18-year career that the seven-time Cup Series champion raced a full season and did not end up in Victory Lane.

He only finished in the top-five twice last season, a career-low. Johnson, now 43-years-old, already has one top-five finish this season through the first 10 races.

Johnson was ninth in the 2018 spring race at Dover before an early mechanical problem dealt him a 36th place finish in the fall. But Johnson said what the car did in practice that weekend could be a good sign for this weekend.

“We won here a couple years ago and we were one of the best cars here last year but had something weird break on the car before we took to the track for the race,” Johnson said. “Our cars have always performed well at Hendrick Motorsports with high-vertical loading and this track certainly has a lot of that. … At Dover, we seem to come back here and repeat each time.”

Johnson was 10th in the first practice session of the day on Friday. He qualified 12th for Sunday’s race.

Another reason for optimism is how fast Johnson’s fellow Chevrolets have looked. Two Chevrolets, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson, led the field in the first practice session.

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott won last week at Talladega and also won in the fall at Dover. Elliott earned the pole for Sunday’s race and teammate William Byron qualified second.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction and getting better each and every week,” Johnson said. “Hendrick Motorsports has improved and is doing better.”

And in the 50th anniversary season for Dover International Speedway, it would be fitting if its all-time winner ends up in Victory Lane.

“Clearly I’m very biased about this track, I think it’s the best one out there,” Johnson said. “I think all drivers can appreciate just the challenge that comes with this track, the banking, the speed, the transitions from the straightaways through the corners.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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