Picture-perfect start for Johnson at Dover

By Dan Gelston
Associated Press / May 15, 2011

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DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson stopped at a media scrum and snapped a photo of Bobby Allison.

Johnson will zoom in on Allison again when he starts first today in the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway. Johnson is one win shy of matching Allison and Richard Petty’s record of seven wins on the Monster Mile.

Johnson has won three of the last four races at Dover, including a sweep in 2009.

The five-time defending Sprint Cup champion doesn’t need any additional help going for the checkered flag, but he caught a break when rain wiped out qualifying yesterday and put his No. 48 Chevrolet on the pole.

Johnson will start first because he posted the fastest average practice speeds. This is the first time this season NASCAR had to use the new system that starts drivers based on practice speed, not points standings.

“I don’t feel like we have a very good handle on it, although things worked good for us this weekend,’’ Johnson said.

Of course they did. He’s Jimmie Johnson.

AJ Allmendinger will start second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, Kasey Kahne fourth, and Joey Logano fifth.

“I don’t understand,’’ Allmendinger said, turning toward Johnson with a smile. “The system is the same for you. You’re either fastest, or they used to do it by points, so you started on the pole. Not sure how much different that is for you.’’

Allmendinger continued to needle Johnson. After Johnson said he cared only about leading the final lap, not the first one, Allmendinger asked for an early free pass.

“I don’t start up front a lot and I can lead a lap, or two or three, it looks good on my stats,’’ Allmendinger said. “So are you just going to let me have the start or what?’’

“I’m not going to let you have it,’’ Johnson said. “But go for it.’’

Johnson popped by for a quick hello to the driver he calls a living legend. Allison was honored at Dover for a career that will see him inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame next week.

Johnson has crafted a career that will surely see him enshrined among the greats.

Allison, David Pearson, and Lee Petty lead NASCAR’s second Hall of Fame class.

Ned Jarrett and pioneer Bud Moore also will be inducted.

Allison was a three-time Daytona 500 winner and his 84 wins are tied for third on the career victory list.

He joked that he owed his career to tricking his mother to giving written permission for him to compete in his first race at only 17.

“I said, ‘Mom, if you give me this letter of approval, I’ll improve my grades in school,’ ’’ he said.

“She thought she was giving me permission for one week. I thought she was giving me permission for 100 years.’’

His grades improved — and his career skyrocketed.