NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson (48) celebrates in victory lane after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week. (Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
DOVER, Del. — By the numbers, no driver is better at Dover International Speedway than Jimmie Johnson.
In 24 Sprint Cup starts, Johnson owns a track record eight victories (one more than Richard Petty and Bobby Allison), 12 top-five finishes and 17 top 10s.
“(It’s) my favorite race track, and by the stats, probably our best track as well,” said Johnson, sixth in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points after posting his first victory of the season in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another track where the six-time champ has been dominant over the years.
What makes the No. 48 team so strong at Dover?
“At the end of the day, there is a feel — a sensation — I look for to get around this race track,” said Johnson, who noted that his team seems to have a “little spring in its step” following last week’s win. “Everything here has worked well for me, for Chad (crew chief Knaus), for the team, (for) our equipment. It’s just been a very strong track for us.”
Winless Kenseth unfazed
The “win and you’re in” Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup mentality isn’t dominating Matt Kenseth’s thought process.
Second in Sprint Cup points (11 behind Jeff Gordon), Kenseth has been pleased with his team’s consistency and said he does not necessarily feel an “urgency” to win.
“Obviously, you more than likely need a win to get into the Chase,” Kenseth said. “Certainly, we wish we had a win, but you can’t really force it.”
That attitude, in spite of NASCAR’s new emphasis on winning as a gateway to Chase qualification, hasn’t really changed.
“I don’t think there’s any more or less urgency (than previous years),” Kenseth said. “It’s not like you can just say, ‘Man, we really need a win’ and you just go get one. It doesn’t really work like that.
“I feel like my team has been doing a great job on pit road and really executing — (making) great adjustments and all of that stuff. We’ve been in position to win a few races. We just haven’t had the speed yet. We’ll just keep putting ourselves in position and hopefully, sooner or later, it works out.”
Kenseth has 19 top-10 finishes at Dover, including two victories (2006, 2011).
“Wins have always been really important,” Kenseth said. “If we could’ve won more in the Chase last year, we probably would’ve won the championship. You just keep giving your best every week and, hopefully, that will come.”
Keselowski fast again
Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski posted the fastest lap in Saturday morning practice, then was second-fastest in the afternoon practice session for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks.
Keselowski’s Miller Lite Ford clocked 159.702 mph on its first lap of the morning. Kevin Harvick (Budweiser Chevrolet, 159.341) was next at 159.341 mph, a far cry from the 163 mph and faster that drivers were turning during Friday’s record-shattering qualifying runs.
Brian Vickers, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose and Johnson also topped 158 mph in race trim during the first practice.
Johnson’s early speed of 158.863 mph held up in the afternoon. He was followed on the pylon by Keselowski (158.270), Ryan Newman (158.263) and Denny Hamlin (158.193). Happy Hour was incident-free, with Harvick, Johnson and Keselowski recording the best average times for 10 consecutive laps.
Winners’ trophies at Dover are large. They feature track mascot Miles the Monster, a red-eyed creature of stone, poised to pulverize cars, atop a granite base.
Johnson said his collection of massive Dover trophies all reside in his “man cave.”
“It’s a big warehouse and I have a huge bar that I restored (with) a big top shelf,” Johnson said. “I think five of them are up there and others are scattered through this kind of pub area that I set up. They stand out. They’re a big trophy and they certainly draw a lot of attention.”
Kyle Busch captured his fourth Camping World Truck Series Monster trophy on Friday. They’re not quite as large as the Sprint Cup version, but nevertheless require dedicated display space that Busch has yet to establish in his home.
“Unfortunately, it’s quite expensive to build trophy cases,” joked Busch, who refers to his Monster trophies as a “family.”
“Some of them will have to live on the floor until we get a little further along. My big daddy Monster Mile Trophy (from Cup) — he’s in the trophy case.”