NASCAR Dover Preview: Jimmie Johnson Poised To Extend Chase Lead In AAA 400

Jimmie Johnson hasn't called his shot, but the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ has reason for hope at one of his best tracks this weekend.

Johnson, the series points leader, leads the list of favorites at Dover International Speedway in Sunday's AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), round 3 in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.

The Monster Mile's punishing nature has so far spared Johnson, who is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison atop the track's all-time win list with seven Dover victories. The most recent of those Dover wins came in June, when Johnson led 289 of 400 laps to pad his series-best driver rating at the Delaware track.

"So far, it's been a great track for us," said Johnson, who's won four of the last seven events on the concrete speedway. ". . . If we can run up front and control the race and control who we're racing around, hopefully we can distance ourselves."

Johnson grabbed the series points lead on the consistent strength of two straight runner-up finishes to open the Chase. He currently heads Brad Keselowski, the round 1 winner at Chicago, by one point and Denny Hamlin, the round 2 winner in New Hampshire, by seven.

Hamlin's triumph last weekend resonated because of his spirited drive from 32nd position to a dominant victory, just seven days after boldly predicting a win through his Twitter account. The confidence Hamlin had at New Hampshire may not be so strong at Dover, where he has just two top-five finishes in 13 career efforts there, including a nondescript 18th-place finish in June.

"I think the concrete surface itself just throws me for a loop and I don't have a good feel," Hamlin said. "I don't know. We got better at Bristol (also concrete), so hopefully what we learned there will transfer over to Dover."

Though no driver has been mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Jeff Gordon -- currently in last place in the 12-driver postseason field -- suggests he needs to convert a Hail Mary pass, starting this weekend. Gordon finished third behind Hamlin and teammate Johnson at New Hampshire, but still sits 45 points off the top.

"It's still going to take a miracle for us to win the championship," Gordon said after last Sunday's finish. "I mean, you've got guys like Jimmie, Keselowski and Hamlin; I mean, these are guys that have been strong all year. You know, Jimmie's won five championships. These guys are not going to make huge mistakes. But we have to go and race every race. There's a lot of racing and a lot of different tracks that a lot can happen at."

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