By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s DuraMAX Drydene 400 presented by RelaDyne (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) the top drivers in the championship points standings are still looking for their first win of the 2022 season.
NASCAR Cup Series standings leader Chase Elliott is also the only member of the four-car Hendrick Motorsports team without a race trophy, but his consistency and ability to “be there” at the end has kept him atop the standings for the last three races. And Elliott is a former winner on Dover’s famed “Monster Mile” track.
Heading into the race, Elliott leads Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney by 21 points in the championship. Unlike Blaney, who has only two top-10 finishes in 11 Dover starts, Elliott has fared well on the concrete high-banks. He has eight top-five finishes – including that 2018 victory – in 11 starts.
And a win this weekend would go a long way toward solidifying Elliott’s run toward a second championship. The last time he hoisted a trophy was July 4 of last year at the Road America road course – 26 races ago.
“I want to win just as much as everyone else, if not more,” said Elliott, who drivers the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “I always want to win, and I always have an expectation of myself to want to go and perform.
“That expectation is the only one that matters to me, and I want to do the job to the best of my ability always, whether you have a win in the bank or not. For me, that doesn’t make me try any harder.”
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports team goes into Sunday’s race as an absolute favorite having finished 1-2-3-4 in the race last year – won by Elliott’s teammate Alex Bowman. The four Hendrick drivers led a remarkable 382 of the 400 laps (95.5 percent). And it marked only the third time in NASCAR history a team swept the top four finishing positions in a race. The last time it happened was November 2005 when Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing did it at the Homestead, Fla. season finale.
Largely thanks to Jimmie Johnson’s record 11 victories at Dover, Hendrick is the winningest team at the track with 21 victories. Since 2013 – a span of 17 races – only three teams have won on the Monster Mile, with Hendrick’s eight trophies the most in that time, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing (five wins) and Stewart-Haas Racing (four wins).
That certainly bodes well for a Hendrick team which has all four drivers – Elliott, William Byron (third), Alex Bowman (fifth) and reigning series champion Kyle Larson (eighth) ranked among the top-10 in the series driver standings. Byron and last week’s Talladega race winner Ross Chastain are the only drivers in the series with multiple wins (two each) so far this season.
Not only is Elliott among the favorites to score a season first win at Dover – he’s joined by three other former NASCAR Cup Series champions, who are also good at this track and also looking for their first trophies of the year.
Past series champs Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. boast the most NASCAR Cup Series wins among active drivers at Dover – all with three victories each. Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is the most recent winner among the trio with a trophy in 2020.
Harvick, 46, the 2014 series champion is ranked 11th in the standings with only a single top five (runner-up at Richmond, Va.) and 12 laps led right now. He’s finished sixth or better (including two wins) in the last seven Dover races.
Truex, 41, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, broke an uncharacteristic run of back-to-back sub-20th-place finishes with a fifth place showing at Talladega last week. He’s ranked eighth in the standings with a best finish of fourth place at Richmond, Va. earlier this month. The 2017 series champion scored his career first NASCAR Cup Series win at Dover, Del. in 2007. He answered a 2019 win there with three consecutive runner-up finishes before a 19th-place run last Spring.
This will be the first test for the new Next Gen car on Dover’s concrete high-banks and while drivers aren’t sure exactly what to expect, they say they are looking forward to the Dover test.
“It’s a hard track to get right anyways but throw in a new car and limited track time, it’s going to be difficult,” Truex said. “I love going there though, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The NASCAR Cup Series will have a 45-minute practice session Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 11:15 a.m. – both televised live on FS1.
NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: DuraMAX Drydene 400 presented by RelaDyne
The Place: Dover Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, May 1
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,205,230
TV: FOX Sports 1, 2:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 120), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 250), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)