DOVER — The question today at Dover International Speedway is the same it has been for the past few years.
Will anyone be able to beat Jimmie Johnson?
The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers think they have something for the nine-time Dover winner.
Denny Hamlin was fastest in final practice and also won the pole for today’s FedEx 400 presented by Autism Speaks. His teammate Carl Edwards was second in the last practice, Matt Kenseth fourth and Kyle Busch was fifth to make it four of Gibbs’ drivers in the top-five.
All of those drivers will start in the top-10.
Gibbs’ team has turned around from running in the middle of the pack earlier in the season. Edwards earned his first victory with his new team last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and Hamlin won the All-Star race two weeks ago.
“We’re kind of building and getting a little bit better and starting to figure out our setups,” Hamlin said. “We’re getting better and obviously this kind of shows it. Looks like all of our cars were in the top-10, so we’re pretty optimistic.
“I felt like a lot of the speed came from the tire test that we had here (at Dover a few weeks ago). We were able to try some new things. Obviously I feel like we have gotten our cars better, and really the setups we have developed have been quite a bit different.”
Like every time Johnson comes to Dover, there is some history on the line.
Johnson, the track’s record holder in wins, could become only the fifth driver in history to win 10 races at a single track.
Others to have accomplished such a feat are some of the biggest names in the sport. Richard Petty did it at Daytona, Richmond, Rockingham, Martinsville, and North Wilkesboro, Darrell Waltrip won double digits at Bristol, North Wilkesboro and Martinsville, while David Pearson did it Darlington.
The most recent driver to earn 10 wins at one place was Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Talladega in 2000.
“If I was able to accomplish it, I’d just be honored to be in that same situation that had been done by Dale Earnhardt Sr.,’’ Johnson said. “I never had the chance to race against him. It’s one big empty void that I have in my career. I feel that I never had a chance to be crashed by him or have a tire mark put on my car, to pass or to be passed. That whole experience, I didn’t have that opportunity and I so wish that I did.’’
Johnson will start 14th today. Of his nine Dover victories, only one came from when he started outside of the top-10.
His car has shown speed this weekend, though. He topped the field in the first practice on Friday afternoon.
There’s another milestone up for grabs for Johnson too. If he leads 24 laps, he will have led more than 3,000 laps at Dover,
Only seven other drivers have done that at one track. The only other active one is Jeff Gordon who has led more than 3,000 at Martinsville.
“It’s crazy for me to have this reality,’’ Johnson said.. “It’s nothing that I thought would happen. I’m certainly enjoying the moment while I’m here.”