By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In his penultimate race at Dover International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson narrowly avoided disaster as he closed the points gap to the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
What Johnson and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team needed to get back into playoff contention was a quietly solid day. For the most part, that’s what the seven-time Cup Series Champion had in the first Drydene 311 race. The biggest moment of the race for Johnson came in the middle of a green flag pit stop cycle.
The 11-time Dover winner was among the first to pit during the cycle. Other drivers including fellow Chevy Racing competitor Ryan Preece waited out the fuel run, hoping for a caution.
That caution never came and Preece, slowed to pit after he was passed by those on fresh tires. However, when he did, he moved from the middle lane to the lower one mid-corner, directly in front of Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took evasive action, narrowly avoiding a similar incident that took place at Texas Motor Speedway between Quin Houff and Matt DiBenedetto.
The remainder of the race was quiet for Johnson. The long green flag runs spread the field out on the track nicknamed the ‘Monster Mile.’ Johnson cruised to a seventh-place finish between Ford Performance drivers Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano.
“Solid day for this Ally Chevy team, we have some work to do but we will go to work tonight and get it right,” admitted Johnson. “Everyone did a great job; we have something to build on tonight and we will come back tomorrow and have something left for them. Bittersweet day tomorrow for me – my final Dover race.”
Early in the race, Johnson picked up some crucially needed stage points. In the first stage he finished eighth while in the second stage he finished seventh. The extra seven-points closed the gap to his Hendrick teammate William Byron in the battle to make the playoffs. Byron failed to earn any stage points in the first Dover race.
After a 20-car invert, Johnson will start the second half of the Dover doubleheader from 14th. Sunday’s Drydene 311 will mark his final race at the concrete track as the El Cajon, Calif. native will retire from full-time NASCAR competition following the 2020 season.
Johnson’s most recent victory in the Cup Series came at Dover in May 2017. The track honored the winningest driver in it’s history by having ‘Miles the Monster’ hold one of Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolets. The track also has 11 cardboard cut-outs of Johnson in the grandstands to represent each of his victories there.
The seventh-place finish was Johnson’s eighth top-10 finish in 2020. It is also the 372nd top-10 in his Cup career. Sunday’s race marks the final opportunity for Johnson to score top-10s in both races of a doubleheader race weekend.
The top-10 moved Johnson up into 14th in the points standings, and into the playoffs with two races left in the regular season. The 44-year-old is just three points ahead of Byron, the first driver on the outside of the playoffs. Johnson is 392-points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo