Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sports

Jimmie Johnson back at Dover, where he's a 10-time Sprint Cup winner

DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson fell in love with Dover the first time he turned a lap at the track in the late 1990s.

He can't quit it, even when it left him with a broken car part.

Johnson's 2015 championship hopes were over at Dover — but not because of a wreck, a blown engine or a mistake on pit road.

A busted right rear axle seal sent the No. 48 into the garage and knocked him out of title contention. Johnson's bid for a record-tying seventh championship came to a shocking end when he finished 41st and failed to advance to the second round of the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.

The faulty finish was a rare misstep at his favorite track. Johnson has a record 10 wins at Dover, dominating the mile concrete track like no other driver.

But the last race here was the worst one for Johnson — and he has tried to focus on the 10 victories rather than the one that got away.

"You're going to have bad experiences at all tracks," Johnson said. "Drivers are going to make mistakes even if it's at their favorite track. It doesn't matter. My love for this track … it's still just as cool now as it ever has been."

Johnson, the Hendrick Motorsports driver, won the spring race last year at the "Monster Mile," placing him among a small group of drivers who have won 10 races at a single track — all the others are NASCAR Hall of Famers. Richard Petty won 15 times at Martinsville and the defunct North Wilkesboro, 13 at Richmond, 11 at Rockingham and 10 at Daytona; Darrell Waltrip earned 12 victories at Bristol, 11 at Martinsville and 10 at North Wilkesboro; Dale Earnhardt had 10 wins at Talladega and David Pearson had 10 at Darlington.

Johnson swept Dover in 2002 and 2009 and also won races in 2005, '10, '12, '13 and '14.

"We definitely get fired up knowing this one is coming up," Johnson said.

Rain wiped out qualifying, so Johnson will start 21st in today's AAA 400 based on his practice speed.

"We didn't have the speed we wanted, (so) it adds actually more frustration than it would at a normal track," he said. "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 has been good — great, mostly — at just about every track and has wins this season at Atlanta and Fontana that already earned him a berth in the Chase.

"Well, he sure has won a lot. That guy is doing pretty good in this sport," Team Penske driver Joey Logano said.

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