The Racing Capital
of the World
May 31, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
There are few tracks where five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has not dominated throughout his 11-season career at NASCAR’s highest level.
Case in point, Dover Downs International Speedway.
It’s where Johnson drove to his first career victory as a rookie in 2002. He also went on to sweep both Dover races as a rookie. He enters this weekend’s race with seven Dover wins, tying him for the all-time track record with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
It is one of seven tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson holds or is tied for the most all-time wins.
“When you said seven, I had no idea I had that opportunity or that honor taking place,” said Johnson, who has a commanding 32-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings over Carl Edwards. “That's mind-boggling to me. I’m extremely proud of that. I've worked hard to put myself in this position and so does the team, and we've been able to capitalize on those opportunities and hard work and get stuff done, so I'm really excited about that.”
Johnson has seven wins, 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 22 Dover starts. He is the defending winner of this race and finished fourth last September at the 1-mile concrete oval.
“The track has changed a lot over the years, and I just saw some pictures recently of when it was asphalt and what it looked like there,” Johnson said. “So times have changed a lot, and I'd love to hear their (Petty’s and Allison’s) opinions and really enjoy any opportunity of talking with them.”
While Johnson had been the “Dover Dominator,” the same can be said at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Johnson and his NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors will compete in the Crown Royal 400 presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.
Johnson is the defending Brickyard winner, as he scored his fourth win at IMS last July. Those four wins tie him with teammate Jeff Gordon for most wins in the prestigious event. The four wins accounts for his four top-five and are included in his five top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
Johnson has plenty of reason to be upbeat heading into Dover. He has a commanding lead in the standings – the largest lead at this point of the season since the new scoring system went into place two years ago.
“I feel good about things,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a huge points lead. We've had the wins, and there have been tracks that we've been really hot at. But I feel like our mile-and-a-half stuff, we've been really a top-five car. Our short-track stuff and superspeedway stuff, we've been a winning car. With the mile-and-a-half occupying so much of the year and especially the Chase, we have a little bit of room for improvement there. I do feel very good about our cars and don't want to undermine that.
“But the points lead is huge, and I'd love to keep it that way and roll on into Richmond or the races before Richmond with that kind of points lead so we can lock in.”
Johnson is determined and driven to succeed and score his “six-pack” of championships this season. His next step on that path is this weekend at Dover. And he believes he has a secret weapon with one of his teammates.
“We all have hot spots that we think need to be fixed and addressed,” Johnson said. “I have a great resource in Jeff Gordon to go to thoughts and ideas. Some of the things and the opinions that drivers have even though they can be generations apart on the calendar, they're still the same topics that are discussed at hand. So I've used Jeff as a sounding board, how he's approached things and the way his voice is heard.
“Other people have other ideas, too. I think Brad (Keselowski) tries hard to be that voice and wants to be that voice. Myself, I try to step back and take it all in, understand NASCAR's point of view, the fans' point of view, the competitors, and it's really easy to have agenda in some of these things.
“I'm usually pretty slow to react, and then I approach things kind of slow and methodically and try to tee them up in an unbiased manner for what's right and what's good with our sport. Truthfully, I don't care to get a lot of recognition for it, so I don't bang my own drum about what I say or do or what NASCAR might consider from something I've suggested to them or talked to them about. I just want our sport to be strong and healthy. So all of the champions and their advice is helpful and kind of helps build that all up.”
Johnson has often been criticized as not being flamboyant or outspoken. He prefers to let his speaking be done on the racetrack.
“My comfort is still developing today,” Johnson said. “I feel like my relationship with NASCAR is still growing and changing and evolving and being stronger. They have to sit there and wonder when anyone, crew chief, driver, owner, whatever it is, walks into the truck to talk to them, what is their agenda? Are they really looking out for the sport or their team? And that's trust that you build with the NASCAR officials, with the executives, especially with Mike Helton and John Darby and Robin Pemberton; that is something you build in time. I'm still today building a relationship with those guys.
“I feel like I have a great relationship with them all, but time and working through issues continues to build that confidence in one another.”
Johnson’s shares his success with others. He realizes that without the proven ability and innovative thinking by his crew chief Chad Knaus that has been one of the secrets to the No. 48 team’s success.
“We're certainly dedicated to our team, and our sport, and we put in the time that's needed,” Johnson said. “I guess maybe it's more about the time that … not necessarily what's needed but what we feel is required or helps us feel satisfied and buttoned up. It's easy to get a car put together and have a setup under it and take it to the track and unload and see what you've got. But I find that Chad (Knaus), and especially my crew, everything that's put in that car is thought through, and if there is something in question, there are two or three options that are thought through, as well, and how we can get them on the car in a timely manner. Will they make the car tighter or looser? What are the pros and cons? What are we sacrificing? It's all thought out at many, many deep levels. So that's what I think has helped us stay on top for so many years.”
There is more depth to Johnson than being a race driver. He is also a philanthropist and helps raise money for many charitable organizations through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
He also went to Oklahoma earlier this week to work in the areas devastated by the recent tornado. His wife, Chandra, is a native of the state and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.
“We went to Oklahoma to work with Lowe's and a little partnership with Feed the Children, as well,” Johnson said. “We were there Thursday passing out really what was needed at the time, essentially food, cleanup items and a variety of things. But we have a big truck full of goods, and I was there with the Lowe's folks at the Lowe's store there in town and head on out and help the people in need.
“It was a chance to go firsthand to see and help and meet and pass out what is needed. Also a good friend of mine, Bob Stoops (head football coach) from the University of Oklahoma, he and his staff, and potentially some players want to get involved and come along, as well. And then to top that off, Channie (Johnson’s wife) and I have decided to take my race earnings from this week's events and donate that to Oklahoma, as well.”