Jimmie Johnson was the highest finishing Chevrolet driver at Dover but that’s not saying much.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was the best of the Chevrolet bunch at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday, but that’s really no surprise.
Johnson holds a record 11 series wins at the track and his performance at the 1-mile concrete oval has fueled many of his championship runs.
A discouraging sign?
Chevrolet’s best on Sunday – Johnson – ended up ninth, one of only two Chevys in the Top 10 (Kyle Larson was 10th). Johnson, who hasn’t led a lap of competition all season, continued that streak on Sunday.
Ford driver Kevin Harvick won the race and four other Fords finished in the Top-10. Toyota had three drivers in the Top-10 with Daniel Suarez the highest finisher in third.
The last time Johnson didn’t lead a lap at Dover was in the fall race in 2015. In 33 career starts at the 1-mile concrete oval, only eight times has he failed to lead at least one lap.
If that’s the best Chevrolet can muster from the driver with the most success at Dover, what do Sunday’s results forecast for the remainder of the 2018 season?
What may be even more discouraging is that Johnson believed it was one of the better performances this season for his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
“All in all, it was a really good day,” said Johnson, who earned his fourth Top-10 finish of the season. “We had a couple of restarts being in the wrong lane. We pitted (once) and we expected a lot more (cars) to come but they didn’t, so we had to start in the teens and start all over again.
“It was a good driving car. I was really happy with it. It’s amazing how much faster I was when I was up in third and fourth – just had a half a second of speed on our side just due to the cleaner air.”
Johnson is under no illusions that given the track record of his team at Dover, there comes a certain level of expectation in performance.
“It’s fair to say (expectations) are pretty high. I just try to fall into a rhythm and go to that place
that I know and the car usually drives more efficiently that way and I start moving forward,” he explained.
“Just over the years it’s gotten so hard to pass and the cars are so aero-dependent that starting 19th like we did wasn’t helpful and then there were a couple of other things that put us back haven’t been helpful.
“If we can get our Fridays sorted out and start closer to the front, we’ll have much better finishes.”
Larson actually won the pole for Sunday’s race but was never able to take advantage of it as his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times and he was forced to start the race from the rear of the field.
Larson was three laps down at one point early in the race, so his ability to recover and end up in the Top 10 likely indicates he may have been a player in the final outcome without the penalty.
Whether Larson would have had anything for Harvick – who picked up his series-leading fourth win of the season – is hard to say.
“It was a hard-fought top 10 for sure. I guess happy about the top 10,” Larson said. “I was hoping we could pick off some cars there that last run once we finally got on the lead lap, but it was just so hard to pass.
“Everybody was the same speed until the very end of the run and then you could kind of move around. I found a little bit of time and was catching a few of them in front of me, but just ran out of time.”
With almost a third of the season now completed, how much time does Chevy have to get back on track?