Jimmie Johnson goes by the nickname “Six-Time,” for the number of NASCAR Sprint Cup titles he’s won.
At Dover International Speedway, Johnson can now be called “10-Time.”
That’s how many races Johnson has won over his career at the Monster Mile, after he took a green-white-checker finish ahead of Kevin Harvick on Sunday in the FedEx 400.
The victory put Johnson into elite company in NASCAR history. He joins Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and David Pearson as one of five drivers to win at least 10 races at one track. He’s also won four races this season and 74 times overall – two behind Earnhardt for seventh on the sport’s all-time list.
“That’s not something that I say, ‘I’m going to go do that,’” said Johnson of his Dover mark. “I don’t really think about those things. It’s not a goal that I had right there in front of me. But, wow, what an opportunity it was for me. But I’m shocked. I can’t dream that big.”
Johnson first raced at Dover in an American Speed Association event in 1999, finishing eighth. He said he didn’t have much success at the Monster Mile in the NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. But after winning both races on the 1.0-mile concrete track during his rookie Cup season of 2002, he knew there was something special about the place.
“My love for it has grown deeper,” said Johnson. “It’s a cool track and I enjoy it so much. It’s a feeling I’ve been able to keep for a lot of years.”
Johnson was by no means dominant Sunday. He led just once, for the final 23 laps of the race. After gradually closing in on then-leader Harvick, he took advantage after a caution on Lap 383. Johnson went to the front on the restart, then held off drivers with fresher tires over the final 23 laps.
“It’s inspiring for me to stay on my game and stay disciplined,” said Johnson, who started 14th. “To be able to keep pressure on the car in front of me and wait for it to make a mistake. Now, the other cars in the top five were all pretty good, so they weren’t making mistakes, at least big ones.”
Despite his series-high four victories and what is now an all-but certain berth in the Chase, the season hasn’t been always smooth for Johnson. His No. 48 team hasn’t consistently qualified well, which he and crew chief Chad Knaus said puts an inordinate amount of pressure on them to perform well on race days. Johnson hasn’t won a pole yet and has started 19th, 13th and 14th in the past three races.
“I’m actually fairly pleased with the way that we’ve been performing,” said Knaus. “I think that we’ve got to do a better job on Friday. I feel as though the race starts on Friday, and we’ve really done pretty pitiful on Fridays and got to do significantly better there. We’re working really hard on it, really hard, and if we can do that, it’ll set us up to get in position to get a solid pit pick and really let our pit crew start to shine.”
Hendrick Motorsports is appealing a P1 level penalty Johnson’s team was assessed after receiving two written warnings during Charlotte’s speed weeks – first for modifying a side skirt during the Sprint All-Star Race, then for needing too many times to pass pre-qualifying inspection before last week’s the Coca-Cola 600.
Johnson’s penalty was having the last choice of pit stalls for Sunday’s Dover race. But the appeal has put the penalty on hold until it is resolved.
The penalty didn’t take any meaning away from Johnson’s record 10th victory at Dover, nor did it cloud how his main competitor Sunday felt.
“I mean, this is a good racetrack for them,” said Harvick. “They had everything line up for them and had a good car. They had a good car in practice and were able to make it happen there at the end on the restart. He’s just good here.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
Jimmie Johnson became the fifth driver in NASCAR history to post 10 victories at a single track:
15: Martinsville, North Wilkesboro
10: North Wilkesboro
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Kyle Larson
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Aric Almirola