Monster Mile still favorite for Johnson despite rough race last year

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Jimmie Johnson addresses the media Friday at Dover International Speedway. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

DOVER — A very rare occurrence happened the last time NASCAR visited Dover International Speedway.

The Monster Mile broke Jimmie Johnson’s heart.

But Johnson, the all-time winner at Dover, still is in love with this track.

“You’re going to have bad experiences at all tracks,” Johnson said. “People are going to make mistakes. Drivers are going to make mistakes even if it’s at their favorite track. It doesn’t matter. My love for this track; I feel in love with it on my first lap in an ASA car back in the ‘90’s and it’s still just as cool now as it ever has been.”

Like always, Johnson is one of the favorites for NASCAR’s AAA 400 Drive For Autism today at Dover. The green flag drops at 1 p.m.

Johnson is the defending champion of this race, but finished 41st in last fall’s race which ultimately knocked him out of NASCAR’s playoff system, the Chase for the Cup. The 41st-place finish was the worst of Johnson’s career at the Monster Mile and it cost him a shot at a seventh Sprint Cup title.

Johnson’s finish that day was caused by a broken part, a right-rear axle seal.

“That was human error,” Johnson sad. “It was something we did wrong as a race team and cost ourselves a shot at the Chase.”

Johnson is assured a spot in the Chase again this year, due to winning races at Fontana and Atlanta. But there’s still a lot on the line for him today.

If he wins he becomes the third driver to win 11 or more races at a single track, joining Richard Petty (15 at Martinsville, 15 at North Wilkesboro, 13 at Richmond, 11 at Rockingham) and Darrell Waltrip (12 at Bristol).

“We definitely get fired up knowing this one is coming up,” Johnson said. “As we prep for it the week of, when we get here and then in moments like what we just had in practice where we didn’t have the speed we wanted it adds actually more frustration than it would at a normal track.  Because we are like ‘man this is our place’ this is where we run well, why are we off? It has many pros, but there are some cons that exist with a track that you’ve been so good at.”

Johnson will start 21st after qualifying was rained out and the field was set by first-practice speeds.

Kevin Harick earned the pole and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start next to him on the front row.

Harvick, like Johnson already has a victory this year to lock up a spot in the Chase, but Earnhardt Jr. is one of several big name drivers who have yet to win this season. That list includes Joey Logano, who won six races a year ago — the most of any driver.

Logano has suffered some tough luck the last few races, being caught up in multiple wrecks.

“We are still the same team (as last season),” Logano said. “When I look at the last couple of weeks that is just racing. The way I look at things like that is, where were you running before that happened and how were you running in that race. It is not like we have had races where we have been way off and if we have started way off in a race we have been able to recover and get a top-10 out of it. I am so proud of the way our team executes races and races hard. We just haven’t really gotten the finishes the last few weeks to really show for that.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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