As the NASCAR circuit prepares for its annual fall stop at Dover International Speedway, there is one guy everyone in the Sprint Cup Series garage recognizes as the favorite: Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson has a good reason for that reputation. He's won four of the past seven Dover events, and his seven victories overall has him tied with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most-ever on the one-mile oval.
When asked Friday about what makes him formidable at Dover, Johnson had an interesting answer as to why he likes the high-banked track nicknamed the "Monster Mile."
"Out of all the oval tracks we race on, this one is most similar to my off-road background," Johnson said. "The drop-off into the corner, the way the rubber lays down and you have to select a different line through the turn reminds me of dirt racing. And then you have to climb back up that hill and jump back onto the straightaway and then go do it again and again and again."
When asked his feelings about others putting the bullseye on his back, Johnson acknowledged "we all look at other drivers and where they excel and you know that you're going to have to deal with them" – seemingly relishing his role as the man to beat.
This marks the second straight race where a driver enters the weekend as the heavy favorite. Last week at New Hampshire, it was Denny Hamlin who everyone pegged as the driver to beat. And despite a setback in qualifying, Hamlin fulfilled those expectations, leading a race-high 193 laps and cruising to his fifth win of the year.
But just because a driver is historically great at a particular track – like Hamlin at New Hampshire or Johnson at Dover – it doesn't guarantee he will dominate each and every time out. According to Johnson, it's pretty easy to determine whether a driver will be stout.
"Last week was a good example, as we knew going in based off of the spring race that Denny was going to be the car to beat and they did that," Johnson said. "We all look through stats, but I'm not sure a long history plays into things – but certainly a spring race is one you pay attention to."
Using Johnson's barometer, then the field is going to be in trouble Sunday.
In June, the 48 team decimated the competition with Johnson leading 289 of a possible 400 laps and winning by a healthy 2.5 seconds over Kevin Harvick. Even more ominous is the fact Johnson has led no less than 157 laps in his previous seven Dover starts. These numbers had Johnson stating the obvious.
"We're definitely excited to be here at this race track," he said. "The stats are very good for myself and this team. We're very glad to be here."