Johnson : 'Excited to be back at my best race track'
Jimmie Johnson discusses coming to his best race track but knows from experience that you can't always count on a track to be kind to a driver.
It's tough for Jimmie Johnson to make everybody happy
Jimmie Johnson comments on the intensity so far in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first elimination race approaches.
Johnson on Dover: You can't take a track for granted
RELATED: Chase Grid " Sunday's full lineup DOVER, Del. -- The track that has brought Jimmie Johnson so much success is also the site of one of his biggest disappointments. It was here at year ago at Dover International Speedway that Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet was felled by a broken axle seal, relegating the Hendrick Motorsports driver to a 41st-place finish. RECAP: What plagued Johnson at Dover last year One of the favorites in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup suddenly found himself out of title contention. NASCAR's only six-time champion would remain just that for another year. That the failure happened at Dover, at track Johnson has 10 career wins at, was stunning. "I think last year shows that you really can't count on a race track always being kind to a driver or always working in their favor," Johnson said Friday at DIS. "It's part of racing. I've learned it through many different lessons over my racing career. "Last year, I think, kind of showed everybody … that you just can't take a race or a track for granted for anybody." That disappointment hasn’t lingered, however. Once again NASCAR's Chase is underway and once again Johnson is a player. He isn't a lock to advance to the Round of 12, but he is among those expected to remain above the cutline after Sunday's Citizen Soldier 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) here at DIS. After finishes of 12th and eighth in the first two Chase races, Johnson sits eighth in points, 18 ahead of the first driver outside the top 12 -- currently, Jamie McMurray . It also hasn't changed his outlook toward Dover as he and his team prepare for the 400-mile race. Rain on Friday forced the cancellation of qualifying, leaving Johnson to line up eighth in the 40-car starting grid. "We're back with high hopes," he said. "I love being here." And with good reason. In addition to his victories, Johnson has finished fifth or better at Dover in more than half of his career starts. He has started from the eighth position three other times at Dover -- winning twice (2009 and 2013) and finishing third once (2014). Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske No. 2 Ford) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota) will start first and second, respectively, on Sunday.
Phone call changes Jimmie Johnson's Chase outlook
RELATED: See the Chase Grid LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson felt certain he'd be facing a much larger deficit in the second event of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. A points penalty for his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet failing its post-race pass through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) platform last week likely would have dropped him into the bottom four of the 16-driver postseason field. But Johnson said he received a phone call Wednesday afternoon on his way back from his race shop that altered his outlook. NASCAR competition officials had just implemented a midweek update regarding minor LIS infractions, offering a reprieve for both himself and the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team of last weekend's race winner, Martin Truex Jr . "I was just taking my lumps and going on with my business and then kind of Christmas showed up in September," Johnson said Friday after qualifying fourth for Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . "Just unexpected, but happy." NASCAR's competition department announced Wednesday that P2 and P3-level penalties would be eliminated for lesser LIS violations found in post-race inspections, leaving the stricter P4-grade punishments in place for more egregious infractions. Truex, who automatically advanced to the Chase's next round with his victory at Chicagoland Speedway , and Johnson were not penalized in the points standings. Johnson said he was pleasantly surprised, though he knew his car was slightly outside of the allowable measurements for its rear axle offset, or "skew." "I really feel NASCAR was trying to create a penalty system that was more forgiving," Johnson said. "Stuff bends, stuff moves, and they set those tolerances up to really help the garage area and then to keep cars failing out of the headlines. But it's tough. There's a lot of moving parts in these cars and of course we're trying to get as much skew as we can and we failed. "I'm sure directionally, it was an advantage. Everybody will take every hundredth of an inch they can get. I think we were four thousandths over. I don't know how much of an advantage you can get in four thousandths. That's awfully, awfully small, but we're in a world now where it's black or white." The non-penalty kept Johnson in the heart of the Chase's opening round, slotted eighth with a 13-point spread behind series leader Truex. Four drivers will be eliminated from championship eligibility after next weekend's race at Dover International Speedway , where Johnson has won a record 10 times. Johnson's current ranking could be worse had the penalty taken effect, but it could have been better as well. Johnson was solidly on the verge of a top-five finish last week at Chicagoland, but a pit-road speeding penalty on his penultimate stop bumped him outside the top 10. Johnson said he began to accelerate just 2 feet too early at the pit-exit line, sending him over the speed limit for the final timing section and offsetting the performance strides the No. 48 team had made in recent weeks. "We've definitely been showing speed over the last month and a half," Johnson said. "That's been something that's very welcomed and it's been a lot of hard work to get to that point. Unfortunately, mistakes still are continuing to happen and last week was on me." RELATED: Hear Johnson's reaction on the scanner
Inside Johnson's preparation to avoiding speeding penalties
After a speeding penalty at Chicagoland Speedway hurt Jimmie Johnson's chances at a win, the No. 48 team took the week to properly prepare so that the same mistake would not happen again at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Heads up: Dover and Las Vegas weekend
Here are the hot topics, trending news and key story lines to get you ready for this weekend's races at Dover International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway . WEATHER The weekend forecast for Dover, Delaware, looks like there's a chance for rain. Friday for Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole qualifying there is a 60 percent chance for precipitation. For the XFINITY Series race on Saturday, there is an 50 percent chance for precipitation with a high of 76 degrees. And for the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, there's a 30 percent chance for precipitation and a high of 76 degrees. For Las Vegas, site of this weekend's Camping World Truck Series events, it will be clear and 70 degrees for the start of Saturday's practices. And on Saturday it will be clear and 90 degrees for the start of the race. KEY TIMES Sprint Cup Series: The Sprint Cup Series holds its first practice Friday at 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App) followed by Coors Light Pole qualifying at 3:40 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App). The Citizen Soldier 400 is at 2 p.m. ET Sunday (NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). XFINITY Series: The XFINITY Series opens practice on Friday at 11:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App) and qualifies Saturday at 11:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App). The Drive Sober 300 is on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Camping World Truck Series: The Camping World Truck Series is scheduled for a Keystone Light Pole qualifying session Saturday at 6:10 p.m. ET on FS2, followed by the DC Solar 350 race at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). CATCH DRIVERS LIVE We'll stream every driver press conference in the Dover media center at NASCAR.com/presspass. Click here for a full schedule. Click here to tune into the live stream . LAST TIME In September of 2015, Kevin Harvick punched his ticket to advance to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by leading 355 of 400 laps at Dover International Speedway , a career-best at any track. Harvick beat out eventual 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch by 2.639 seconds for the victory. YOU SHOULD KNOW • Chris Buescher (-30 from 12th place), Tony Stewart (-11), Austin Dillon (-5) and Jamie McMurray (-5) are all on the outside looking in as far as the Chase Grid standings are concerned. Of those drivers, Stewart is the only one who has won at the "Monster Mile" -- three times to be exact. Stewart's most recent win came in 2013. • With 10 wins, six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has been to Dover's Victory Lane more times than any NASCAR driver. Johnson is looking to punch his ticket to the next Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup round and a win at his best track could be in the cards. • Winning the opening XFINITY Series Chase race at Kentucky, Elliott Sadler continues his momentum to Dover where he has earned three top five and 10 top-10 finishes, two of which came in the last two XFINITY Series races at the 1-mile track. Sadler's experience in 17 starts at Dover could shine through on Saturday compared to the young guns he's competing against for the championship. • Of the Camping World Truck Series Chase drivers, only Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters have wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . Canadian Tire Motorsport Park winner John Hunter Nemechek has the best average finish of 4.0 out of the Truck Series Chase drivers. Behind Nemechek is Ben Kennedy with 5.0. Nemechek has run just one Truck Series race at Dover, while Kennedy has experienced two. In 15 starts, two-time Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton has an average finish of 11.9, but is still seeking a win.
Elliott: Hendrick's recent surge a group effort
RELATED: Dover on-track schedule " Chase Grid DOVER, Del. -- Chase Elliott 's average finish during the six-race stretch from Sonoma in late June to early August at Pocono was a sour 27.67. His past six races? 10.3. The Hendrick Motorsports rookie certainly appears to be over his summer slump. "I was really proud of the way we ran last weekend," Elliott said Friday at Dover International Speedway . "We ran inside the top five the majority of the day. That was a huge improvement for our group. Loudon is a terrible race track for me, so I was really happy with just the fact that we were able to be kind of in that group." Still in his freshman year in the Sprint Cup Series, this marks 20-year-old Elliott's first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup appearance. He's joined in the 16-car playoffs by teammate Jimmie Johnson , who has been a part of each Chase since its inaugural run in 2004. Like Elliott, Johnson's No. 48 team also struggled throughout the summer, but appears to be back to its form of running in the top bracket. Even the non-Chase cars of Kasey Kahne (No. 5) and Alex Bowman (No. 88), fill-in driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., have shown speed in recent weeks. The teamwide improvements beg the question: Has the Hendrick Motorsports organization found something in time for the Chase? Elliott thinks it's bigger than that. "I know that our engine department has been working really hard," Elliott said. "I think that you see their improvements across the board, not just Hendrick cars, but I have a lot of respect for Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and everybody at the engine shop for making their engine program so fair … I think when you see an improvement in the engine shop you are going to see that across the board and I think we've seen that the past couple of weeks. I think there is definitely something there." The No. 24 shop individually has also done its part to put together the jigsaw that seemed to puzzle the Hendrick group in the summer weeks leading up to the Chase. "I know Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our group has been pushing really hard on that front trying to improve, trying to get the best stuff we can get pumped out of the shop and to the race track," Elliott said. "I think it's a little bit of both to be honest with you and I think we are moving in the right direction on some items that I think we’ve been missing. That is encouraging to me." An encouraged Elliott has elevated his team to ninth of 16 on the Chase Grid, 16 points ahead of the cutoff line. Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) marks the first elimination race of the season that will narrow the field from 16 to 12. Based on recent trends, Elliott's chances at advancing to the next round are strong, provided he's able to tame the Monster Mile, a track where he finished third in May. And from there, the rookie could go all the way to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I 100 percent think our group or Jimmie's group could make it," Elliott said on the possibility. "I feel confident in that. I think we've been fast enough these first two weeks to do it, but obviously you have to have some things go your way throughout this deal and you've got to execute your races and try to stay mistake free."
Kyle Larson leaps to top of practice board late at Dover
RELATED: Full practice results " Top 10 consecutive lap averages Kyle Larson topped the speed charts in Friday's only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Dover International Speedway with a speed of 165.578 mph in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Right behind him was Carl Edwards in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 165.122 mph. Rounding out the top five were Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 JGR Toyota, Ryan Newman in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Sprint Cup Series Chase points leader Brad Keselowski was 19th fastest with a speed of 162.177 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. The lowest Chase driver was Chris Buescher in 31st place with a speed of 160.100 mph in the Front Row Motorsports Ford. The start of the practice session was delayed 15 minutes in order to finish drying the 1-mile track after rain moved through the area earlier. &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Truex Jr., Pollex hang with MLB manager, more tweets
Editor's note: Every Friday, "Tweets You Might Have Missed" will present eight of the best NASCAR-related tweets from the week. 1. SO cool meeting Joe Girardi @Yankees stadium. Thank you for everything you do to support #ovariancancerawarenes pic.twitter.com/RyLZPBPbDS — Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) September 27, 2016 2. Sorry @tydillon better luck next time pic.twitter.com/pBo6hzPfzH — Haley Dillon (@HaleyKDillon) September 28, 2016 3. Nothing like getting home and seeing this !!! So blessed.. #TheChase pic.twitter.com/HtslTKIb6X — Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) September 25, 2016 4. pic.twitter.com/GdS5pFLpdB — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) September 27, 2016 5. When your roommate locks you out and your dogs are inside crying pic.twitter.com/7tRu4RqUHt — Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) September 26, 2016 6. Our version of mommy and me yoga pic.twitter.com/3gfCl8VJxZ — Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) September 26, 2016 7. This is how we bond pre race. Ready to race now #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/3da5W7Wefb — Josh Wise (@Josh_Wise) September 25, 2016 8. A kids paradise pic.twitter.com/gnfnYURHBa — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) September 29, 2016
Bruce: Don't see drama? You're not looking hard enough
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. DOVER, Del. -- Where's the drama? If you mean the pushing and shoving, the name-calling, the on-track paybacks, then no, the start of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has seemed tame by those standards. If you mean three- and four-wide battles for position from the drop of the green flag right up until the checkered flag, then no, that's not been the case either. (But seriously, how often does that happen?) But drama? It's still there. Maybe not to the scale some folks have come to expect, but it's been there nonetheless. Chase teams continue to battle in an effort to advance to the second round. Those outside the Chase haven't stopped trying to get back into Victory Lane. Both groups face issues every week. Some overcome. Some do not. In a series where every point matters, every lap does, too. Every decision on the track has consequences while the potential for disaster rides along with every trip to pit road. No altercations? No major disputes? That doesn't mean teams are mailing it in. The teams that are struggling continue to try to get better. The teams that run up front on a more regular basis aren't exactly resting on their laurels. Recall how strong the Joe Gibbs Racing teams were during the regular season? Those teams haven't been bad in the Chase by any means, but it certainly has been no cakewalk. And you can bet they are trying to regain any advantage they enjoyed earlier this year. "It's so hard to make everybody happy," Jimmie Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway . That some feel the action hasn't lived up to expectations doesn't sit well with the six-time series champion and driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . "It actually frustrates me to hear that," he said. Johnson opened this year's Chase with what would on the surface appear to be two very humdrum finishes of 12th at Chicago and eighth last weekend at New Hampshire. Far from it, according to Johnson , who called the opening race of the 10-race playoff "about as exciting as any Chicago (race) I've ever had." For the first time all season, he led more than 100 laps. He was in contention for the win, battling with teammate Chase Elliott in the latter stages of the race. But a mistake on pit road led to a speeding penalty during a late round of green-flag pit stops. And any chance at victory went out the window. Maybe that isn't spellbinding for some, but for Johnson and a host of others, the start of this year's Chase has been intense. Fellow driver Jamie McMurray compared the action in the first two races to "trying to have a good finish in every single race." "You're not going to have that, and that's what makes the exciting finishes so great," McMurray said, and that's about as spot-on as you're going to get. "I guess it's circumstantial. Normally (for) the restarts at (New Hampshire), somebody always gets tangled up, and the fact that it's one of the first Chase races there is usually some drama there. We just didn't have that this year." Dover, site of Sunday's Citizen Soldier 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) is "one of those places where we could have that and we could shake it up a little bit," he said. Two races into this year's Chase and no one's car has gone flying through the air or burst into flames. No driver has rushed up pit road after the race to accost another competitor or used his car to exact a bit of vengeance out on the race track. Maybe that's become the expectation. But while bemoaning the lack of those things, folks are missing some pretty good competition out on the track, too. &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;