Johnson looks to recapture Dover glory

DOVER — There was a time when it didn’t seem like a Dover race if it didn’t finish with Jimmie Johnson in Victory Lane.

Between 2009-15, he won seven of 13 races at Dover International Speedway.

And three other times in that stretch he finished in the top four.

But the Monster Mile hasn’t been so kind to Johnson lately.

He’s now 0-for-3 in his attempt for Cup win No. 11 at Dover — which would make him the track’s winningest driver.

Johnson will start only 14th in today’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism. It’s just the sixth time in the last 20 Dover races that he’ll start outside the Top 10.

“Today was pretty challenging in the practice session trying to find the right balance,” Johnson said on Friday. “Just got off a little there. We got it closer for qualifying here, but just not enough speed to transfer.

Alex Winnett from Raleigh, NC gets a autograph from #48 Lowes driver Jimmy Johnson as NASCAR came to Dover International Speedway on Saturday June 3rd as the Monster Energy Series Cup drivers practiced for the 48th Annual AAA Drive For Autism Race to be held on Sunday June 4th.
(Special to the Delaware State News / CHUCK SNYDER)

“We’re trying. Qualifying is very important to us. We’re very aware of that. It is just not suiting us this year. This is my favorite track, and I know come race time we will be just fine.”

Indeed, despite his lack of wins here lately, the Monster Mile is still one of Johnson’s favorite places to race.

“There are tracks that fit a driver’s style and a team’s style,” Johnson said on Friday. “And I think because of how much success we’ve had here, this is a track that fits (crew chief) Chad (Knaus)’ style and mine.

“The car dynamics and how much the car moves around and the way it launches into the corner and lands, and then you turn around and fight through all the banking that has the launch back up onto the straightway. … takes me back to my roots and really challenges the crews and the crew chiefs and engineers to make the car comfortable and secure. I just think that the challenges this track throws at a team just fits us really well.”

After placing just 41st and 25th in back-to-back Dover races, Johnson bounced back with a seventh-place finish here last fall.

He comes to Dover eighth in the current Monster Energy Cup point standings — and still with some regrets from last weekend’s Coca Cola 600.

Johnson finished just 17th at Charlotte after leading for 35 laps. He grabbed the lead with 31 laps left when the rest of the top cars pitted but then ran out of gas with just two laps remaining.

“I didn’t know we were thinking fuel,” Johnson said just after the race.

On Friday, Johnson clarified that statement.

“They did tell me to save gas,” he said. “I just wish that I knew from the beginning of the run.”

Johnson thought there were a few times when he could have coasted and saved some gas down the stretch.

“But, like I told Chad (Knaus) after the race, I’m happy he was swinging hard,” said Johnson. “We have two wins. There’s nothing like winning at home. And the previous scenario with where we restarted fourth or fifth was going to be our call and the best that we could get with the way that final run was going to unfold.

“I’m happy he took a chance and tried to win the race.”

In 17 of the last 19 Dover races, Johnson has led at least one lap. Of the 12,009 he’s completed on the Monster Mile, Johnson has led 3,093 of them.
Of course, it really only matters if you lead the last one.

On Friday, Johnson was asked how he felt about the 2018 Cup schedule and how some of the venues for the playoff races have changed.

He said he was all for trying new things.

“In driver council meetings that I’ve been a part of and conversations that have taken place, I’ve kind of sensed that change was coming and I’ve been for it,” said Johnson. “I’ve been for it mainly because of the excitement it can bring to the fans in our sport and much less about how it pertains to the No. 48 car.

“If I could have a voice I would say the 10 playoff races were all right here (at Dover) and that would benefit the No. 48 the most,” he added with a laugh.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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