Have Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus flipped the switch to “go?”
Back-to-back top-five performances to begin the Chase certainly point in that direction. Johnson’s finishes of fifth at Chicagoland and fourth in New Hampshire mark only the third time this season the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has fashioned consecutive top fives.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion had ended the regular season with four consecutive finishes of 28th or worse.
Johnson, the Chase’s No. 2 seed, trails two-race leader Matt Kenseth by 18 points and current runner up Kyle Busch by four markers. As the modern-day master of Dover International Speedway’s 24-degree concrete canyon, Johnson can erase much of the deficit on Sunday.
A victory – his eighth at the “Monster Mile” – will make the 38-year-old Johnson Dover’s all-time winner, breaking the track record he shares with NASCAR Hall of Fame members Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.
It also will swing the Chase conversation back in a familiar direction.
Johnson capped his five-season championship reign with Dover Chase victories in 2009-10. He’s led each of his past dozen starts at the track and headed 2,066 laps – 30.4% – of the track’s most recent 17 races. Johnson’s average finish, 7.1, is two positions better than his closest rival Kenseth. Johnson’s Driver Rating of 119.6 is 12 and 14 points higher, respectively than that of Kenseth and Busch.
“We’re in a good spot and we’re going to one of my best tracks,” said Johnson, who finished 17th in June’s Dover race after being assessed a restart penalty with 19 laps remaining. “I certainly hope to have (us) in Victory Lane over there.”