Jimmie Johnson says his team ‘trending in the right direction’ as series hits Dover

DOVER, DE - MAY 03: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 3, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion, an 18-year veteran of the sport and an 83-race winner. And with 11 previous Dover International Speedway trophies, he is also the winningest driver in history at this week’s venue.

All that good juju in his corner and an omnipresent competitive desire for victory and most would assume Johnson is a perennial favorite for Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It’s hard to believe, but a triumph this weekend would be Johnson’s first trophy hoist since Dover’s Victory Lane two years ago.

The 2018 season marked the first time the champion has gone a full season without a victory and Johnson is long tired of predicting when his ship will right its course. Every week he feels it is possible.

Of course a record 11 victories, a record 3,105 laps led at this week’s track certainly makes this weekend a good option in furthering Johnson’s certain NASCAR Hall of Fame-bound trajectory.

As is so typically the case, Johnson showed up in the Dover Media Center Friday afternoon looking settled and sounding optimistic.

“Clearly, I’m very biased about this race track,” Johnson said smiling. “I think it’s the best one out there. I think all drivers appreciate just the challenge that comes with this track, the banking, the speed, the transitions from the straightaways through the corners.

“I noticed on social media before we got here that drivers and crew members and crew chiefs were all talking about how much they love coming here. It’s just a very unique challenge and a totally different race track than anything else we race on.”

Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was 10th fastest in opening practice on Friday and all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were also among the top-10. It’s a good sign going forward as is the momentum in general for Chevrolet and the team.

Johnson brings an enviable record to Dover – his 10.9 average finish and 9.9 average start – are best among any driver with more than six starts at the track. He has maintained that average with 34 starts. He won the first two races he ever competed on at the track and has won back-to-back trophies three different times in his career.

Since his victory in the Spring, 2017, Johnson has a pair of top-10 finishes on Dover’s “Monster Mile,” including a third place in the Fall of 2017 and a ninth place in this Spring race – won by Kevin Harvick – last year.

Johnson has four top-10s – including a season best of fifth at Texas Motor Speedway, where he also won the pole position. He suffered his worst finish of the season last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway after running over debris and getting a flat tire less than 30 laps into the race.

However, he had to leave Alabama feeling encouraged. Johnson’s teammate Chase Elliott led a Chevrolet 1-2-3 sweep at Talladega – the first win for the manufacturer this season. Elliott is also the most recent winner at Dover, claiming the Playoff win here last October.

“I think we’re all trending in the right direction and getting better each and every week,” Johnson said.  “Hendrick Motorsports has improved and is doing better. So, I’m optimistic and certainly very happy to be at the track that I love so much and I feel like we can hopefully string together a couple of really strong weeks here.”

He rolls off 12th Sunday.

Greg Engle