DOVER, Del. – Jimmie Johnson has weathered a costly speeding penalty, a post race laser inspection that threatened a harsh punishment and a mad scramble through traffic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The first two races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup have featured drama galore for Johnson, who seemed miffed Friday by questions about a perceived lack of buzz early in the playoffs.
“It’s so hard to make everybody happy,” the six-time Sprint Cup champion said before practice at Dover International Speedway. “It actually frustrates me to hear that. That might be the response. It’s just tough to make everybody happy.”
Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire both featured lead changes in the final six laps, but there wasn’t a multicar crash listed in the boxscore of either Chase race. There also has been an absence of the post-race tensions that have become commonplace in the first two seasons of the elimination format playoffs.
Jamie McMurray, who is five points outside the cutoff for advancement entering Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 first-round finale, expects the theatrics could explode at Dover.
“I think the Chase hasn’t had the drama that it normally does to this point,” he said. “So if you’re a guy on the outside looking in trying to advance to the next round you’re hoping that it’s a fairly dramatic race. And that something big happens with somebody up front that’s going to shake it up a little. It can happen for sure here.”
Last year, Johnson was the victim of a major plot twist when a broken axle seal midway through the race erased his comfortable points margin and eliminated his No. 48 Chevrolet from the playoffs in a 41st-place finish.
McMurray said it’s mainly “circumstantial” that the 2016 playoffs haven’t produced the same drama yet.
“It’s like trying to have a good finish in every single race,” he said. “You’re not going to have that, and that’s what makes the exciting finishes so great.
“Normally the restarts at (New Hampshire), somebody always gets tangled up, and the fact that it’s one of the first Chase races, there is usually some drama there. We just didn’t have that this year.”
That could change Sunday at Dover, whose May 15 race featured an 18-car pileup on the frontstretch.
“Dover is one of those tracks that if there is an accident on the track, it typically involves a lot of people that have to go to the garage, and it’s hard to repair your car,” McMurray said. “This is one of those places where we could have that and we could shake it up a little bit. But other that the first two races, I guess it’s just circumstantial and just wasn’t there yet.”
Rookie Chase Elliott, who is making his first playoff appearance, said the first round hasn’t seemed so different from the regular season.
“I think this first round, to me, has been similar to races that we’ve seen throughout the year,” he said. “I don’t think the intensity of a lot of the guys that have experience in this deal has been ramped up quite to the point that it will be depending upon if you make it further. I think the further you get into it, the more it is going to ramp up, for sure. I think a lot of it is situational, but to me this first round has been pretty normal as far as the races go and how I’ve seen people driving. I feel like it has been pretty similar to the races throughout the year.”