Column: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DOVER, DE – Jimmie Johnson gets a double shot this weekend—a double shot at securing a berth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff at his best race track.
Johnson has won 11 times in 36 starts at Dover International Speedway—a remarkable winning percentage of 30.6. With the Monster Mile hosting a Cup doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday, the seven-time series champion will have two opportunities to muscle his way into the postseason.
The first race in the doubleheader is the Drydene 311 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The second leg of the doubleheader follows on Sunday at 4 p.m., to be carried by the same broadcast partners.
Dover is the track that gave Johnson his last Cup victory on June 4, 2017. Since then, through two crew chief changes, Johnson has competed in 117 races without taking the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to Victory Lane.
“We’re very excited for this weekend at Dover,” said Johnson, who is 15th in the Cup standings, 25 points below the Playoff cut line after Sunday’s fourth-place finish at the Daytona Road Course. “It’s hands-down my favorite track…
“Performance-wise, last weekend at the Daytona Road Course, we had a solid day. We needed that. Because of our fourth-place finish, we’ll be starting sixth Saturday at Dover, which is really an advantage to where we have been starting lately.
“With the random draw and the way track position has been working out, I feel like we have had things stacked against us for a while. This will be a good advantage for us, and we just have to go out there and get it done.”
The driver immediately ahead of Johnson in the race for a Playoff spot is his own teammate, William Byron. In four starts at the Monster Mile, Byron has a best finish of eighth in last year’s spring race. That’s the only Dover event in which he has finished on the lead lap.
“Even though it’s concrete, Dover’s surface changes a lot during the race,” Byron said of the high-banked, high-speed one-mile track. “It’s really temperamental and holds a lot of rubber. When it does that, it widens the race track out.
“It’s a tough track to get ahold of for that reason. You have to prepare for when the rubber lays down and have your car handling how it needs to once that happens. You have to stay on top of those things. I feel like our guys have done a good job in preparing, and we’ll see what we have when we unload.”
Since Johnson’s last win at Dover, five different drivers have won the five most recent races there: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Of that quintet, Busch is in the direst need of a victory to counteract the cascade of ill fortune that has beset the defense of his championship.
Busch is winless this year, and his drought has reached 23 races, the most to start a season since his rookie year in 2005, when Busch won at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in his 25th start.
CINDRIC HEADS TO DOVER ON A REMARKABLE ROLL
The last time the NASCAR Xfinity Series had a weekend doubleheader, Austin Cindric won his first race on a NASCAR oval at Kentucky and repeated the feat the following day.
Since then, Cindric has won three times in four races and finished second to Brandon Jones in the one race he didn’t win. With last Saturday’s victory at the Daytona Road Course, Cindric record his fifth triumph of the season, pulling even with close friend and fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe for the series lead.
With the Xfinity tour heading for Dover International Speedway for a doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday, Cindric will get the opportunity for another sweep. Saturday’s Drydene 200 is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on NBCSN, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. Sunday’s event starts at 1 p.m., to be carried by the same broadcast partners.
While on his current roll, Cindric has taken the top spot in the standings from Briscoe, who is eager to get to Dover and try to reclaim bragging rights.
“I’m super excited to get to Dover,” Briscoe said. “It’s one of my favorite race tracks. We always get to go there twice, but usually it’s so far apart in the season we’re sitting there waiting to go back. It’s nice to have races back-to-back now and run two days in a row. Hopefully, we hit the setup on our HighPoint.com Ford Mustang good the first day to where it carries over into the second day.
“I really enjoy these doubleheaders, because if you have a bad first day or even a good first day, you can go back and try again, or back up what you did in that first race. We have a good opportunity to capitalize on this being one of my better tracks.”
Cindric, however, will have a leg up at the start. The No. 22 Team Penske Ford is on the pole. Briscoe’s No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang will start 10th.
Interestingly, there is only one former winner in the field for Saturday’s first leg of the Xfinity doubleheader—veteran Justin Allgaier, who took the checkered flag in the spring race of 2018.
SAUTER HOPES HISTORY REPEATS AT MONSTER MILE
As a driver who desperately needs a victory to secure a spot in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs, Johnny Sauter couldn’t be racing on a better track.
Sauter has won the last three events at Dover International Speedway. A fourth straight victory would lock the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford into the Playoffs, which Sauter is in dire peril of missing if he can’t turn his season around in the next three events.
With DNFs at Texas and Kansas and a disqualification at Atlanta, Sauter is 14th in the Truck Series standings, 67 points behind Todd Gilliland in 10th, the last Playoff-eligible position. A victory, however, would vault Sauter into the Playoffs.
In 11 starts at the Monster Mile, Sauter has posted eight top 10s, seven of those coming consecutively and culminating with his current three-race winning streak.
Friday’s KDI Office Technologies 200 (5 p.m. ET Friday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the second event in the Triple Truck Challenge. Sheldon Creed claimed a $50,000 bonus with his win in last weekend’s race at the Daytona Road Course. A second victory in the Triple Truck Challenge would earn Creed an extra $50,000 bonus, for a total of $150,000.
Should he win all three races in the program, Creed could collect an additional $300,000 bonus for a total of $500,000.