By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
The always treacherous Dover International Speedway lived up to its “Monster Mile” nickname back in May 2016, as a multi-car pileup with 45 laps to go changed the entire complexion of the race and left many of the contenders with junked race cars
One of the drivers who was able to survive that lap 355 melee was Matt Kenseth, who had his hands full over the closing laps of the race, battling with Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott for the race win.
Kenseth was able to pull away as Larson and Elliott battled each other for position, but once the two drivers settled in, they set their sights on Kenseth over the final 10 laps. Both of them gave it their all, but Kenseth was able to hold them off to score his first win of the season and third career win at Dover.
“It feels good to be here, been a tough few months, for sure,” said Kenseth. “These guys did a great job, did a great job on pit road today. Obviously Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and these guys did a great job with the car and adjustments as well as Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development).
“We had a good car today. I thought we were competitive and there were a few guys at different parts of the race that were a little bit better and Kyle (Larson) gave me all I wanted at the end, and then some. We were fortunate to be able to hold him off.”
While Kenseth was celebrating in victory lane, the runner-up finish for Larson was the best finish of the season for him, albeit a disappointing one, having come up one spot shy.
“I was trying to do all I could do to get by him (winner, Matt Kenseth) without getting into him,” said Larson. “I probably could have bumped him a little bit there in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2, but it was a lot of fun racing with Matt, there. I was just trying to be patient. I knew I was better than he was.
“And then the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) got to third, and he was catching us pretty quick and then I got side-by-side with the No. 20 (Kenseth) for a couple of laps and he got to my inside; we got to race really hard. And then the No. 20 got back away and by the time I got to second, he was just a little bit to far in front of me. I got another shot there at the end, but I came up a little bit short.
“I was probably just a little too patient there, but I’m really proud of everybody on this team. The Target Chevy was not good to start the race. The first two runs, I was really bad and went a lap down. I got the Lucky Dog and got some track position. I got a whole new car. It was weird. But it was a lot of fun. I got to lead some laps and be right up front and race people hard. All in all, it’s a good day. We would like to be in Victory Lane, but my day is coming.”
The top-three finish for Elliott was the best of his young Cup Series to that point as well, with the Hendrick Motorsports driver noting the chaotic run to the finish from his perspective.
“It was definitely wild from my view,” said Elliott. “If the fans didn’t get what they wanted to see today then they need to go do something else. That was a heck of a race in my opinion. Obviously, wish we could have come out on top. Matt (Kenseth) and Kyle (Larson) were racing really hard for the lead. I tried to steal one from them. They were a little better than we were, but we worked hard and tried to stay in the ball game today and fortunately came out with a decent finish, just not close enough.”
Kenseth, Larson, and Elliott may have stolen the headlines with their late-race duel, but the biggest storyline outside of their battle were the two late race cautions that set it up.
The lap 355 wreck started when Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car failed to get into gear on the restart as he was leading, causing Martin Truex, Jr. and 16 others to pile into the wreck and bring out the red flag.
The wreck would involve Johnson, Truex, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, David Ragan, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Most of the drivers would have to go to the garage for repairs, but some of them would be able to continue in the race.
“As soon as I went from second and tried to go to third, I kind of got up into the neutral gate of the transmission and didn’t even go to third,” said Johnson. “It stopped before it ever went to third. And then I tried fourth and third and fourth and eventually I got hit from behind. There was a long pause there where I was trying to, I thought maybe I missed a shift; but it wouldn’t go in gear.
“Martin (Truex, Jr.) was good and patient with me. He gave me a couple of opportunities to try to find a gear and it just locked out and wouldn’t go into gear for some reason. It was still that way at the end and I couldn’t drive the car and I don’t think I’m all that damaged, but unfortunately I lost a shot at winning and I hate to see all those cars tore up.”
Truex was able to rebound to ninth after getting his car repaired, but was obviously frustrated with his continuing bad luck.
“Our guys did a really good job today,” said Truex. “I thought really all weekend, we had a new package, science project kind of deal Friday and yesterday and went with what we know for Happy Hour. At the beginning of the race we were a fifth, sixth-place car and just kept working on it, kept working on it and when we needed to be the best car, I think we were.
“Just one of those deals, wrong place, wrong time. Frustrating, but we got a top-10 out of it so not too bad. The guys on pit road did a great job fixing it. Just hate that it happened. I wanted to be fourth on that restart, but I didn’t want to be fourth that bad. I should have been third so maybe I should have not let the 19 beat us off pit road. I don’t know how you can see those things coming. All in all good day, just bad finish.”
The race went back green on lap 359, but it wouldn’t stay green for long.
On lap 360, Carl Edwards spun after contact from Larson off of Turn 2, causing his No. 19 to make hard contact with the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch, ending his shot at a third win on the season.
“I didn’t see much,” Edwards joked. “I was trying to give Kurt (Busch) a little room, it looked like he got choked up and as I looked at the replay it looked like I moved down a little and (Kyle) Larson got underneath me.
“I don’t think he meant to do it, but it surprised me. I didn’t know he was that close. We’ll just chalk it up to racing, but the hard part is we felt like we were going to win that million bucks for those kids and I felt like we could win this race. It’s tough not to be out there.”
Overall, a total of 12 cautions would fly on the day, feeding the monstrous appetite of track mascot Miles the Monster.
“This was one of those Dover races I don’t think anybody will forget any time soon. There was a lot of chaos,” said Brad Keselowski, who was involved in one of the 12 cautions mid-way through the race, but was able to finish sixth.