DOVER, Del. – For Jimmie Johnson, it’s on course, steady as she goes.
Two second-place finishes launched him into the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ entering Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Johnson is a single point ahead of Chicagoland winner Brad Keselowski. But lurking in third, just seven points behind, is Denny Hamlin, who came within two races and a couple of missteps of denying Johnson his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2010.
The script is slightly different. But the same actors are in place.
Johnson’s run to title No. 5 might have been considered miraculous – at least statistically. The California native overcame a huge disadvantage, a 25th-place finish in the Chase opener, but quickly rebounded.
Two races later, following a victory and a runner-up finish, Johnson was the points leader. Johnson reeled off four consecutive top-10s but was overhauled by Hamlin’s Texas triumph – a race in which Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus ordered a mid-race swap of over-the-wall crews with those servicing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon to preserve a top-10 finish.
Johnson left Ft. Worth facing a 33-point deficit, which he cut to 15 in Phoenix. His second-place finish to Carl Edwards in the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale – in which Hamlin finished 14th – clinched the championship.
But we could be getting ahead of ourselves – maybe.
Johnson isn’t likely to predict a Dover victory, but no current driver has a better resume at the “Monster Mile.”
Johnson led 289 of 400 laps in June’s FedEx 400, posting a record-matching seventh victory at the one-mile, concrete-surfaced track. He shares the mark with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Like Petty, Johnson won his first two Dover starts. Those seven victories make Dover his most prolific track.
Twice, in 2009 and 2010, Johnson won the AAA 400 en route to his fourth and fifth titles. He’s won four of the last seven Dover races – including a season sweep in 2009.
His Dover-leading Driver Rating of 120.6 is a full 10 points higher than that of his nearest competitor. Johnson has run a whopping 5,170 laps in the top 15 – 86.1% of the 8,404 times he’s circled the “Monster Mile” in 21 starts.
Over the past eight races, Johnson has led 54% of the laps contested (1,719/3,200).