Johnson matches Next Gen career-best in Dover return

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

It may not have been the dominant homecoming one would expect from an 11-time winner at Dover Motor Speedway, but Jimmie Johnson managed to put up another good fight with Miles the Monster for his most successful effort in the Next-Gen era.

A lot has changed since Johnson last turned laps in the NASCAR Cup Series at his best track in 2020.

Instead of racing a blue Lowe’s-sponsored No. 48 Chevrolet as a full-time driver, the seven-time champion entered the Würth 400 as a second-year co-owner for Legacy Motor Club racing his No. 84 Toyota Camry XSE.

But perhaps the most radical change has been the introduction of the seventh-generation car, which had proven to be a daunting challenge to overcome for Johnson through five starts going into the 400-mile event.

At any rate, the Monster Mile is still the site of Johnson’s most recent and record-setting 83rd victory, and he finished third in his last race there.

Johnson began the weekend like he’d never left, after posting the fifth-fastest time in practice. While speed didn’t quite transfer into qualifying as anticipated, he led the charge for Legacy M.C. in starting 27th.

For the third time in as many starts this season, Johnson had an even-keeled outing, albeit on the wrong end of the competitive scale. However, this could be seen as his most balanced effort in the Next Gen car.

Technically, Johnson’s 28th-place finish matches his career-best in the current car from the Daytona 500 earlier this year, but this was at a non-drafting track. Additionally, in terms of consistency, this was his strongest race with an average-running position of 31st.

Although these aren’t numbers worth bragging about, Johnson got much needed seat time – something he’s been vocal about in order to assess his program and be competitive himself – in completing 395-of-400 laps.

“Tough day,” Johnson said. “We certainly had higher expectations for our performance today for our Dollar Tree, Family Dollar Camry. It was nice to get another race under my belt and get a better understanding of the car. We will just go back to the shop and get after it.”

Johnson spent Stage One fighting tight conditions before being lapped with 20 to go and finishing 31st. After taking wedge out and making adjustments to free up the No. 84, it was too snug in the center, but free in and off the turns, resulting in a 32nd-place ending to the second segment.

In the final stage, Johnson’s Camry began building too free, but he was able to benefit from two timely cautions with less than 100 laps to go involving six cars. 

John Hunter Nemechek held the banner for Legacy Motor Club at Dover in placing 20th, two laps off the pace. Corey Heim, serving as a relief driver for Erik Jones while he recovers from a spinal injury, finished 25th in his Cup debut.

Johnson will look to capitalize off repetition when he makes his first-consecutive starts as a part-time driver next weekend in the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway.

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