Jimmie Johnson makes drive toward NASCAR history at Dover

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson needs a mammoth man cave at home for all of his Dover trophies.

Known as the Monster Mile, the Dover winner gets a menacing, red-eyed Miles The Monster trophy that weighs 60 pounds and measures at just under 1 1/2 feet from the base to the top of the hand that clutches a mini car.

But it’s not the oversized reward Johnson truly wants at Dover.

“You guys have tall Budweisers in victory lane,” Johnson said, joking.

Happy hour usually comes late Sunday afternoon at Dover after yet another Johnson victory.

No active driver owns a track like Johnson does the concrete mile at Dover. Johnson, the defending race winner, holds the track record with nine victories in just 26 starts.

Johnson, a six-time Cup champion, will attempt to become just the fifth NASCAR driver with 10 or more wins at a single track in Sunday’s race.

Should Johnson win, he would join NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (Martinsville-15, North Wilkesboro-15, Richmond-13, Rockingham-11, Daytona-10), Darrell Waltrip (Bristol-12, Martinsville-11, North Wilkesboro-10), Dale Earnhardt (Talladega-10) and David Pearson (Darlington-10) as drivers to win 10 races at a single track.

“I go all the way back to my first trip here in an ASA (American Speed Association) car,” Johnson said, “and it was love at first sight.”

Here’s a look at the nine races that defined Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet at Dover:

June 2, 2002: Johnson showed what kind of dominance was ahead with a win in his first Cup race at Dover. Johnson passed four-time Dover winner Ricky Rudd to take the lead on lap 363 and held off Hall of Famer Bill Elliott to win his second race of the season.

Sept. 22, 2002: Johnson went back-to-back at Dover, one of two times he’d sweep the season at the Monster Mile. Johnson joined Petty as the only drivers to win their first two races at Dover. He led 170 of 400 laps and tied the Cup record for most victories by a rookie with his third of the season. It was his last win of the season and he finished fifth in the points standings.

“I’ve had plenty of reminders that I’m a rookie,” Johnson said. “I’d trade some youth for experience in a heartbeat.”

Sept. 25, 2005: Johnson needed three years until he found victory lane again at Dover, a reminder that it only seems like he wins every race here. Johnson barely hung on to beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Busch by about a car length.

“I’ve got to thank Kyle for being such a good teammate and racing me clean at the end,” Johnson said.

May 31, 2009: If Johnson was slowly adding Dover wins to his resume over his first seven years, this was the race that truly ignited his run at track greatness. It may have been the best one, with two Cup champs battle for the checkered flag. Johnson thrashed the field, then rebounded from a late pit stop that dropped him back into traffic to catch Tony Stewart with two laps left in a thrilling finish.

“We just couldn’t hold off Jimmie,” Stewart said. “He was like a freight train coming.”

Sept. 27, 2009: Break out the broom. Johnson swept Dover for the second time in his career, accelerating his bid for a fourth straight Cup title. Johnson led 298 laps when he won at Dover in May and added another 271 in the second race.

“I certainly hope that our performance today scares some people,” Johnson said.

It at least impressed them.

“I’m pretty sure that dude is Superman,” runner-up Mark Martin said.

Sept. 26, 2010: Johnson capped what he called a dream weekend with his sixth career win at Dover. He won from the pole and even held his baby daughter in his arms in victory lane for the first time.

“I don’t look all that excited right now but there’s a huge weight off my shoulders that we were able to come and win a race in the Chase,” Johnson said.

June 3, 2012: Johnson raced his way into the track’s history books with his seventh win on the concrete, matching the mark held by Hall of Fame drivers Bobby Allison and Petty. Petty needed 46 races to win seven times and Allison had 35 races. Johnson got to seven in his 21st start at the track. Johnson led 289 of 400 laps.

“I just truthfully never thought I’d be the guy who’d build up any cool stats,” Johnson said. “Here I am with some pretty cool stats with legends of our sport and guys that I’ve looked up to.”

Sept. 29, 2013: Johnson held off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. down the stretch to win for a record eighth time at Dover.

“You’ve got to win when you’re at your best track,” Johnson said.

June 1, 2014: Johnson’s checkered flag celebrations at Dover have seemingly become a rite of the NASCAR season. He became Dover’s career leader in laps led when he hit the 2,802 mark.

“For sure, when you come to Dover, it’s always the 48,” driver Matt Kenseth Kenseth said.

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