Johnson hoping for some of that old Monster magic

#48 Lowes car driver Jimmy Johnson signs autographs on Saturday at Dover International Speedway. Special to the Delaware State News / Chuck Snyder

DOVER — Jimmie Johnson is going to jump from an airplane, parachute down to his racecar, start three laps behind and win today’s Apache Warrior 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Well, not really, except maybe that last part that ends with him in Victory Lane … but you never know.

Johnson has solidified himself as “Superman” at Dover ever since he pulled off an unprecedented sweep by a rookie driver of both Dover races at the high-banked, one-mile oval in 2002.

The seven-time Cup Series champion blew past legendary NASCAR drivers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison – who had seven wins apiece at Dover in the record books – on his way to an unprecedented 11 triumphs at the “Monster Mile.”

Oddly enough, Johnson is kind of flying under the radar heading into today’s main event at Dover.

He’ll start the Apache Warrior 400 from the 17th starting position, way back in the ninth row. That shouldn’t be that big of a deal considering he started dead last in the spring race at Dover and won an overtime thriller.

Johnson said it may look easy, but a lot of work goes into collecting championship trophies and checkered flags.

If he can capture his eighth Cup Series championship this season he will become the all-time leader with eight titles, breaking a tie with Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“We’re working really hard,” Johnson said. “It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But this is pro sports. It’s not easy to go out there and win. It’s not easy to stay on top.

“But we do have some good news. Fall is here. Winter is coming. Put a Game of Thrones on it. We’re excited to get back to tracks that we run really well at.”

Dover is one racetrack that could provide a huge momentum boost to Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.

If Johnson wins at Dover today he will join NASCAR Hall of Famers Petty and Darrell Waltrip as the only three Monster Energy Series drivers to win 12 or more races at a single track.
Petty did it three times (Martinsville – 15 wins, North Wilkesboro – 15 and Richmond – 13), while Waltrip did it once (Bristol – 12 wins).

In 31 career starts at Dover, Johnson boasts 11 wins, 16 top fives, 22 top 10s and a 9.3 average finish. His 7.7 average running position and 118.3 driver rating put him at the top of the “Monster Mile” statistical lists among active drivers.

Johnson enters today’s race seventh in the point standings, 32 points above the cutoff line – the 13th-place driver, which would be the first to be eliminated when the checkered flag waves at Dover.

He would clinch his spot in the Round of 12 by scoring 24 points.

“I think if we get the momentum to swing in the right direction, get one good race under your belts, we can get hot,” Johnson said. “We did it last year. I know we’re very capable of it again.”

Though it might seem like it, there is no magic button that Johnson can push when it comes to racing for championships.

“I wish I knew where that switch was,” he said. “It would be nice to flip it at will. Honestly, over the years and through the various challenges we’ve faced, I just think the tracks in the spring, the tracks in the fall, work the best for us … the same places.

“Nothing like Chicago for me or Dover, Charlotte, Martinsville. I just can’t wait to get back to those tracks and, hopefully, get this (No.) 48 in Victory Lane.”

Dover has traditionally proven to be a magical elixir for Johnson. There’s no reason to think the magic won’t happen again today.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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