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Johnson feeling left out at Dover

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 6

With 11 victories, Jimmie Johnson has won more times at Dover International Speedway than any other driver. But if he earns win No. 12 Sunday at the Gander Outdoors 400, it won’t matter very much.

A victory would snap Johnson’s 33-race winless streak, which dates back to the 2017 spring race at Dover. But it affect his standing in NASCAR’s playoffs.

Sunday’s race at the Monster Mile (2 p.m.) begins the second stage of NASCAR’s playoffs. Four drivers are eliminated after each stage, and one of the four eliminated last Sunday was Johnson.

Johnson sort of eliminated himself last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was in second place during the final lap. If he had played it safe, he would have advanced to the second stage. But Johnson went for the win, trying to pass leader Martin Truex Jr. on the final turn. Johnson collided with Truex. He was able to get his car restarted and finished in 14th place.

Finishing 14th left Johnson tied in the standings with Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson, with Larson only earning a tie because Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed with sight of the finish line and couldn’t get his car restarted. Johnson lost the tiebreaker, so Almirola and Larson advanced to the second stage while Johnson joined Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones in the first group of drivers eliminated.

Nobody can match Johnson’s victory total, but there are drivers still alive in the playoffs who have a history of success at Dover. Kevin Harvick, who is in second place, has won three of his past seven races at Dover. Brad Keselowski, in fourth place and with wins in three of his last five races, has two wins and six Top 10 finishes in his last nine Dover races. Truex, in third place, has a win and eight Top 10 finishes in his last nine Dover races.

Kyle Busch, who is in first place, has trip to Victory Lane and four Top 10 finishes in his last eight Dover races. Busch will start from the pole position Sunday because qualifying was wiped out by rain.

If you’re looking for a driver besides Johnson and the top four who could win at Dover, consider Chase Elliott, Johnson’s young teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott, in ninth place in the standings, has raced at Dover five times while on NASCAR’s top circuit. He had never finished outside of the top five until finishing 12th in the spring.

Elliott, Larson, Almirola and Alex Bowman are in the final four positions entering the second stage. But, with the standings closely bunched after the top four drives, they are all within 15 points of fifth-place Clint Bowyer. Even if they don’t win, those bottom four drivers want to do as well as possible at Dover to move out of the elimination positions entering the final two races of the second stage.

There is a lot at stake for a lot of drivers at Dover on Sunday – even if Jimmie Johnson isn’t one of them.

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