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Jimmie Johnson set for 500th Sprint Cup start Sunday at Dover

DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson was still only a prospect in NASCAR's developmental series when he tried to work up the nerve to talk to Jeff Gordon.

Johnson wanted to introduce himself to Gordon and ask for career advice. What Johnson didn't know during that fateful August 2000 meeting was Gordon already knew him. Not only did Gordon have advice, he had a pitch — Hendrick Motorsports was going to expand to four cars and Johnson was their man.

"From that moment on, my head spun around on my shoulders," Johnson said.

Johnson has been turning heads on the track ever since.

With crew chief Chad Knaus calling the shots, Johnson has driven the No. 48 Chevrolet to six championships and 74 career wins, including a track-record 10 at Dover International Speedway, site of today's AAA 400.

As Gordon and fellow NASCAR champion Tony Stewart get ready for retirement, the 40-year-old Johnson shows no signs of slowing. He'll make his 500th career start today and recently signed a two-year extension with team owner Rick Hendrick.

"The racing Gods have smiled on me and this team," Johnson said.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion has earned $150 million in purse money and sees no reason why today's drivers will follow the ones from a generation before and drive into their 50s.

"I have always been curious. Why, when, what tells you to stop," he asked. "Mark (Martin) tried a half dozen times to retire and couldn't walk away. I want to make sure I do it once and not keep coming back. What I am looking for is that moment."

Lowe's, his primary sponsor, was on the car when Johnson ran three Cup races in 2001, and the nucleus of driver, sponsor and crew chief Chad Knaus has been together since Johnson's 2002 rookie season.

"I definitely feel like I have received the credit I deserve, the team has and it's something that you earn as well," he said. "I think the success we had and the races we won and the championships we won earned that respect."

Xfinity: Regan Smith strengthened his title bid with a victory in the Hisense 200 at Dover. Smith won for the second time this season and moved within 36 points of series leader Chris Buescher with five races left in the season.

Plane crash kills ex-racer: Former sprint car champion Tony Elliott was among four Indiana men who died in a plane crash while traveling to Saturday's Notre Dame-Clemson football game. The wreckage of the Piper PA-32 was found near Lake Hartwell in Oconee County, S.C., Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Berger said. Authorities didn't give a cause for Friday's crash. Elliott, 54, the USAC national champ in 1998 and 2000, died with Charles Smith, 71; son Scott Smith, 44; and Scott Bibler, 51, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said.

NHRA: Brittany Force broke both track records with a 3.725-second pass at 331.53 mph to take the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel qualifying in the Keystone Nationals. Robert Hight (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their classes.

Sprint Cup points

Through two of 10 races in the Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts Back

Matt Kenseth* 2,099—

Denny Hamlin* 2,093 6

Carl Edwards 2,089 10

Joey Logano 2,089 10

Jimmie Johnson 2,083 16

Ryan Newman 2,074 25

Kurt Busch 2,073 26

Brad Keselowski 2,072 27

Martin Truex 2,071 28

Jeff Gordon 2,068 31

Jamie McMurray 2,058 41

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,057 42

Kyle Busch 2,056 43

Paul Menard 2,056 43

Kevin Harvick 2,034 65

Clint Bowyer 2,018 81

* — Advanced to second round.

Today's race

AAA 400, 2:30 p.m., Dover (Del.) International Speedway

TV/radio: NBCSN, 102.5-FM

Jimmie Johnson set for 500th Sprint Cup start Sunday at Dover 10/03/15 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2015 9:16pm]
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