Johnson looks to rekindle that old Dover magic

DOVER — Leave it to the high banks of Dover International Speedway to cure what is ailing Jimmie Johnson, who has recorded an unprecedented 11 victories at the track known as the Monster Mile.

It’s no monster to him.

Johnson, who has not earned a win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since driving into victory lane at Dover in June 2017, returned to the top of the speed charts during Saturday afternoon’s practice session at Dover, solidifying his position as one of the favorites to capture today’s Gander RV 400 (2 p.m., FS1).

Johnson piloted his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet to a fast lap of 161.863 mph in a 50-minute session on Saturday. A scheduled morning practice session for the Monster Energy drivers on Saturday was canceled due to fog. A light drizzle that began at 9:30 a.m. added to the inclement weather and forced a slight delay to Xfinity Series qualifying.

The higher speeds have Johnson somewhat concerned about what the racing conditions will be for today’s race though he hopes Dover can help him snap a career-long 69-race winless streak.

“I do have big concerns from an in-race opportunity to pass, the type of racing we’ll see (today), I am nervous about that,” said Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion. “The faster we go, the harder it is to pass and the wider the race track needs to be. The critical areas around this track are pretty narrow. And there’s really one groove around the bottom most years I’ve been here.

“So, the tall spoiler, the higher speeds, I think that’s going to make the cars very difficult to really pass the car in front of you. So, from that standpoint, I think track position is important and that’s where my concerns are.”

Martin Truex Jr., a two-time Dover winner, posted the second-fastest lap (161.718 mph) in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota, putting him just ahead of his teammate Erik Jones (161.435), who was third-fastest in the No. 20 Toyota.

Kyle Larson took fourth on the practice leaderboard with Aric Almirola rounding out the top five. Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford team served a 15-minute penalty at the end of final practice after failing Friday’s pre-qualifying inspection twice.

Daniel Suarez scuffed the right side of his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford early in the session, scraping the outside retaining wall on the exit of Turn 4. He continued with cosmetic damage and claimed the sixth-fastest speed in final practice.

Chase Elliott, who won the pole position in Friday’s qualifying, was 10th-fastest in final practice in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet. He’ll be gunning for his second consecutive victory in the series, plus his second straight at Dover after winning at the speedway last October.

“It was a great lap, I appreciate the effort, and it’s been a great week,” Elliott said, after winning the pole on Friday. “Things can go south a lot quicker than they can go good. It’s just a starting spot, but we will try and take advantage of it with that good pit box (today).”

50th anniversary could be dampened

All eyes will be on the skies at Dover International Speedway today with rain showers expected throughout the day, according to the National Weather Service.

That could force NASCAR to move today’s Gander RV 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday, should there not be a dry window to try to squeeze the race into.

The NWS said there is an 80 percent chance of precipitation today with a high temperature of around 64 degrees. New precipitation amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch are possible. Rain showers are expected to last until around 8 p.m.

Monday’s forecast is calling for partly sunny skies with a high near 72.

NASCAR royalty a part of today’s celebration

Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty will serve as the honorary starter and seven-time Dover NASCAR Cup Series race winner Bobby Allison will present the winner’s gold Monster Trophy for the Gander RV 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race today as part of the Monster Mile’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Petty, also a seven-time Dover NASCAR Cup Series race winner, will wave the green flag to start the Gander RV 400, the 99th NASCAR Cup Series race in track history. Petty won Dover’s first NASCAR event, the “Mason-Dixon 300” on July 6, 1969.

Following the race, Allison, the 1983 NASCAR Cup Series champion, will present the winner with the golden Monster Trophy on behalf of Gander RV in Sunoco Victory Lane.

“Richard Petty and Bobby Allison are legends in our sport. They embody NASCAR and their careers on and off the race track paved the way for what this sport has become,” said Mike Tatoian, Dover International Speedway’s president and CEO. “As Dover marks its 50th anniversary season, there’s no better duo to participate in the excitement of a Dover Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race than Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.”

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

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