As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway this weekend for the 13th points race of the season, 30-odd drivers are hoping to get lucky and snare the win that will catapult them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But for one driver, the stakes are even higher.
Jimmie Johnson already has three wins this year, but a win at this particular track would be significant for an entirely different reason. He currently has nine wins at Dover, a track record, but one more victory would place him in an elite group of NASCAR drivers. Only four drivers have won 10 or more races at a single track and they are all members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Richard Petty won 15 races at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro, 13 at Richmond, 11 at Rockingham and 10 at Daytona. Darrell Waltrip won 12 events at Bristol, 11 at Martinsville and 10 at North Wilkesboro. Dale Earnhardt had 10 victories at Talladega and David Pearson claimed 10 checkered flags at Darlington.
Johnson is the defending spring race winner and has the best driver rating of the top 16 at Dover, but he will also have some problems to overcome. On Wednesday NASCAR announced penalties for three Sprint Cup teams, including a written warning for the No. 48 team.
This marked the second written warning in two consecutive races, making it a P1 penalty. As a result, the team will have one of the last two picks for pit stalls at Dover, regardless of how Johnson qualifies.
Johnson reflected on racing at Dover, saying, “I’d have to say Dover is probably one of the most technical tracks we go to. Setup is key. Communication between driver and crew chief is key. At Dover, you have such loading characteristics, as you’re on the straightaway and kind of lunge off the corner, that you can draw some similarities between Dover and Charlotte. Dover isn’t easy, but it just suits my driving style and I love it.”
One of Johnson’s chief competitors will be teammate Jeff Gordon whose last win was at Dover in September, giving him five victories at the Monster Mile, second to Johnson among active drivers. Gordon also joins Hall of Famers Petty (7), Bobby Allison (7) and Pearson (5), with five wins or more at Dover.
Gordon spoke about the obstacles the 24 team would face this weekend.
“We won the race in September here last year, but this is a different rules package with reduced horsepower,” he explained. “We’re going to be carrying more speed through the center of the corners this year, and the car will need to ‘rotate’ so you can get back in the gas quickly.”
Martin Truex Jr. is second in the point standings and it’s hard to imagine there is anyone who wants a win more. He led the most laps in the previous two races at Kansas and Charlotte and has three top-five and 11 top-10 finishes this season, but victory has been elusive. He hopes to change that this weekend.
Truex considers Dover his home track and it was the site of his first Sprint Cup win in 2007.
“Dover has always been special to me,” said Truex. “Even when we went through some hard times last year, we still managed to pull off strong results at Dover. There’s just something about that place that makes me feel both confident and comfortable.”
Tony Stewart has only one top-10 finish this year and is barely hanging on in 30th place in the point standings, but one win could turn it all around. Although he has been successful at Dover, Stewart and the No. 14 team have found the track to be one of their most challenging venues on the circuit.
“Dover is probably the track where we have struggled the most,” he said, “which certainly made the 2013 win that much sweeter. It was the one track that we always had to look at and say, ‘This is one that we have to figure out and do better if we’re going to have a shot at this.’ We have to survive there. What we did there that year helped us out for our next two races at Dover but, even with the win, we have some work to do.”
Stewart has three wins at Dover including his last Sprint Cup victory in June 2013. That win broke a 30 race winless streak. As Stewart rolls into Dover this weekend, it seems only fitting that the three-time champ experience a little déjà vu as he seeks his next checkered flag.