Jimmie Johnson looks for a positive bump at Dover, his favorite track

NASCAR Texas Auto Racing
Jimmie Johnson walks out of the garage area after a practice session for a NASCAR Cup series auto race in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, April 6, 2018.

It doesn’t matter what the sport is. The truly great performers are always seeking to out-do the accomplishments of those who came before them.

Tom Brady chased Joe Montana, who chased Johnny Unitas. LeBron James is chasing Michael Jordan, who chased Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

NASCAR great Jimmie Johnson has his great whales. With seven Cup Series titles, Johnson is tied with legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most season championships at the highest level.

Of course, Johnson wants eight, but the active leader in wins (83) says his motivation is more primal.

“Getting an eighth title would be as big as anyone could imagine if they put themselves in my shoes, but it is not my purpose,” said Johnson, who began racing as a youngster in El Cajon, Calif.

“I’m still driven to do this because of the experiences I’ve felt while driving and racing since I was 5. That’s the rush I’ve chased since I was a kid. It’s still there. It’s still as intense as it was when I was 5.”

On Sunday, Johnson brings that passion to Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.

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Jimmie Johnson (48) and Alex Bowman (88) participate in a practice session for a NASCAR Cup series auto race in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, April 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

It’s been a rough start to the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but he’s hoping a stop at his favorite track will kick-start things.

In his career, Johnson has won a record 11 Cup Series races at Dover, including the 400 Drive for Autism in 2017, which was his most recent victory.

“I’ve had a few tracks that I’ve been successful at already and we haven’t been to victory lane yet,” Johnson said. “We’re progressing and taking better cars to the track each week.

“This is my favorite track and our success there has been amazing. Still, realistically, we need to run in the top three or top five to get things going in the right direction.”

Johnson says he believes his success at the “Monster Mile” goes back to his days of off-road racing through most of the 1990s.

“Dover is unique in that in order to make the banked turns, they dug down from the straightaways,” said Johnson, the winningest active driver in Cup Series races. “A lot of the other tracks, you drive up the banking into the turn.

“Dover is like two stories lower at the center of the corner so that you jump into the corner to make it and then you climb back up that hill to the next straightaway and start all over.

“With my off-road racing experience, this is the only track where you’re kind of airborne and you’re driving like you would an off-road vehicle.”

Johnson has nine wins at the half-mile short track in Martinsville, Va., eight at the 1.5-mile quad-oval in Charlotte, N.C., and seven at 1.5-mile tri-oval in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the winningest racer at Charlotte, Dover, the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the Kansas Speedway and the Las Vegas Speedway.

“The road course, short-course, restrictor-plate, mile-and-a-half, to have that versatility is something I am proud of,” he said. “When I started a 1 ½ mile was a sweet spot for me.

“I had to learn different disciplines to become better on short tracks; better on road courses, better on restrictor-plate tracks. Every driver finds out where your strengths are right away, but then you’ve got to go to work in other areas. That’s been a fun challenge for me over the years to go to all tracks and now feel comfortable and confident there.”