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No. 48 driver would join NASCAR's elite with a 'Monster Mile' victory DOVER, Del. – With six NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and 73 race victories Jimmie Johnson is the most decorated driver of his era. And yet this Sunday, he still stands to elevate his legacy and join the sport's greats in another milestone. Should Johnson, 39, drive his No. 48 Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet into Dover International Speedway 's Victory Lane in Sunday's FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks, it would he his 10th win at the famed and feared Monster Mile, putting him in elite "double-digit" company. The last person to win 10 races at a single track was the late seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt at Talladega in 2000. Only three others have accomplished the feat – NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (at Daytona; Richmond ; Rockingham, North Carolina; Martinsville, Virginia; and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina), Darrell Waltrip (Bristol, Tennessee; Martinsville; and North Wilkesboro) and David Pearson (Darlington, South Carolina). And if that weren't impressive enough, Johnson is only 24 laps shy of leading 3,000 laps at Dover. Should he break that threshold he would be one of only seven drivers in history to lead 3,000 miles at a single track. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon is the only other active driver to hit that mark (at Martinsville). In winning this race last year, Johnson led a dominant 272 laps. "It's crazy for me to have this reality,'' said Johnson, who will start 14th Sunday. "It's nothing that I thought would happen. I'm certainly enjoying the moment while I’m here." Beyond the status in the history books, Johnson has often expressed how genuinely honored he is to have his name alongside the NASCAR legends. He has always spoken reverently about the drivers who came before him and even after all he's accomplished Johnson still seems to be the one humbled by the company he's keeping. "If I was able to accomplish it, I'd just be honored to be in that same situation that had been done by Dale Earnhardt Sr.,'' Johnson said. "I never had the chance to race against him. It's one big empty void that I have in my career. I feel is that I never had a chance to be crashed by him or have a tire mark put on my car, to pass (laughing) or to be passed. That whole experience, I didn't have that opportunity and I so wish that I did.'' Johnson's success at the notoriously challenging Dover one-mile concrete oval is especially impressive. The track is nicknamed the"Monster Mile" for a reason – tight, high-banked and physically demanding. There is little room for error on track or on pit road. And yet Johnson has been good here since day one. Literally. In his 2002 rookie year, Johnson swept both Cup races. And he has shown a propensity to get on a roll. He's won back-to-back races three times. He swept the 2009 races at Dover and has won two of the last three here, finishing third to teammate Gordon last fall. "I go all the way back to my first trip here in an ASA (American Speed Association) car and it was love at first site,'' said Johnson, who won the pole and finished eighth in his very first Dover race in 1999. So why has Johnson been able to master the Monster that has challenged so many others? Interestingly, it's the difficulty that intrigues Johnson, not that the track is necessarily easy for him. "I guess to generalize it, it would be the intensity required to run a lap here,'' Johnson said. "It's hard to say that there is one aspect that I enjoy the most, but just the set of corners from straightaway to straightaway. You kind of work up your bravery, you make it through the corner. "You get it on the next straightaway and you smile like, 'wow that was pretty cool. I'm going to do it again. Here we go.' And you fly though turns three and four and you just end up with that mindset around the track. It's tons of fun.'' Nine trophies no doubt make it more fun. "There are a few tracks where I'm in a really neat position to chase history,'' Johnson said. "Again, it's not a situation I ever thought I'd find myself in, but now that I'm here it's certainly in front me. "It's on my mind and it's something I would love to do." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Catch up before the FedEx 400, 1 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1) What: FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks. Where: Dover International Speedway , 1-mile oval in Dover, Del. When: Sunday, May 31; 1 pm ET TV/Radio: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Distance: 400 miles Pit road speed: 35 mph Caution car speed: 45 mph Fuel window: 81 laps On the front row: Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin earned his first pole position of the season and third career at Dover. The Martinsville (VA.) winner will start alongside the hometown favorite, Martin Truex Jr . It is the best start of the season for the New Jersey native Truex, who is the highest ranked driver without a win in 2015. He has good history at The Monster Mile, scoring his first career Cup victory here in 2007. Fastest in practice: Pole-winner Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Toyota topped both of Saturday's practice sessions, turning in a best speed of 156.087 mph in final practice. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards was second fastest in each Saturday practice and JGR driver Matt Kenseth top-10 in both. Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson was fastest in Friday's practice and fifth quickest in both Saturday sessions. Last year's winner: Johnson won last year's race in relatively dominant fashion, leading a race best seven times for 272 laps. It was his second win in as many weeks and made him the all-time Dover race winner with nine victories. On the line: With nine winners in the first 12 races, the trend is for yet another to punch his ticket to the Chase. Truex has to be considered the favorite for this. He and Kevin Harvick lead the series with 11 top-10 efforts. Truex' No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy has led the most laps in the last two points-races -- at Kansas and at Charlotte. He was runner-up at Las Vegas in March and has two fifth-place showings in the last three races and qualified second. History lesson: Even with six championship trophies and 73 wins, Johnson approaches another historical milestone this week that he is especially proud of. Should he collect his 10 th Dover win on Sunday, he would be only the fifth driver in NASCAR history to record double digit wins at a track. The last to do it was Dale Earnhardt (10) at Talladega. Johnson would join the esteemed company of Richard Petty who has double-digit wins at Daytona, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Richmond , and Rockingham, and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol, Martinsville, and North Wilkesboro) and David Pearson (Darlington). A Good Start: Outside polesitter Truex can take solace in an interesting Dover statistic. The second starting position has produced more winners in this race than any other starting position. Front row drivers have won 31 percent of all the races. Nearly 80 percent of Dover race winners started from the top 10 positions on the grid. Return to Glory: Three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart 's last victory came in this race two years ago. Smoke has a good record at The Monster Mile with three wins and 17 top-10s in 31 starts. And, although his No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy will be starting from the 26 th position, Stewart holds a distinguished mark. Only five times in 90 Dover Cup races has the winner started from outside the top-20. Stewart was the last to do it – winning from 22 nd place on the grid. Kyle Petty won the 1995 spring Dover race starting 37 th . They said it: " It's hard to say one aspect that I enjoy the most [about the Dover track], but just the set of corners from straightaway to straightaway, you kind of work up your bravery. You make it through the corner, you get on the next straightaway and you smile, 'like wow, that was pretty cool, I’m going to do it again here, here we go.' And you fly through [turns] two and three and you just end up wit that mindset around the racetrack. It's a ton of fun." – Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet) FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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