Photo: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images

Up to Speed: AAA 400 “Drive for Autism” at Dover Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After two weeks back home in Charlotte, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hits the road again for a trip to Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s running of the AAA 400 Drive for Autism, marking the halfway point in the regular season.

Dover began its life as an asphalt track back in 1969, but in 1995 the track was converted to concrete, making it one of only two on the circuit.

As one of the two concrete tracks on the NASCAR schedule, the one mile high banked oval that is Dover has always drawn similarities to Bristol and is often referred to as “Bristol on steroids”. The track is one that can reach out and bite an unsuspecting driver at any time, turning a Sunday drive into a demolition derby in an instant. Over the years, the Monster Mile has claimed numerous victims, from Joey Logano barrel rolling down the banking in 2009 to Matt Kenseth piling into the tire barrier in 2004 to a wild multi-car crash the blocked the track in 2011. Will the Monster stay tame this go around or is he ready to chew up and spit out some more cars?

Greeting the competitors this weekend will be new safety features put in place by the track over the offseason.

The facility gained approximately 1,800 feet of SAFER barriers, placing the barriers along the outside walls on the frontstretch and backstretch, as those areas were previously unprotected. With the new SAFER barriers, the outside walls around the entire track will now be protected by the energy absorbing walls.

The new barriers that were implemented is a continuation of SAFER barrier installation by the track, which also installed 500 feet of the walls on the outside of Turn 2 and Turn 4 prior to last fall’s race date.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1969

Track/Race Length: 1.0 mile concrete oval (400 laps, 400 miles)

Stage Lengths: Stage 1 and 2: 120 laps each; Final Stage: 160 laps

Banking: Turns: 24°; Straights: 9°

Pit Road Speed: 35mph

Pace Car Speed: 45mph

May 2016 Race Winner: Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota (Started 10th, 48 laps led)

October 2016 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started second, 187 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski (21.892 seconds, 164.444 mph – 5/30/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:

  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 118.3 – 10 wins
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 108.6 – 3 wins
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 105.4 – 2 wins
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 100.8 – Best finish: 3rd
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 94.8 – 2 wins
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.6 – Best finish: 2nd
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 92.5 – 1 win
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 91.4 – 1 win
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 90.7 – 1 win
  • Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 89.3 – Best finish: 4th

From the Driver’s Seat

“It really is a track that just fits my instincts,” said Jimmie Johnson. “Dover just, for the way I want to attack a track, Dover is the perfect track for me. And with my dirt background and the line constantly changing and trying to get your angles right to miss the black spots in the rubber laying down on the track, it just works so well for me. I really enjoy the experience there. Once we pick all the rubber up, the track is super-fast and the balance is usually loose. And then as you run and put the rubber down, the car doesn’t want to turn as good. So, you have to manage that stuff and decide if you want short run speed or end-of-run speed and at some point, you just have to hang on and deal with it. I enjoy that quite a bit.”

Last Year’s Results

The always treacherous Dover International Speedway lived up to its “Monster Mile” nickname in this race one year ago, as a multi-car pileup with 45 laps to go changed the entire complexion of the race and left many of the contenders with beat up 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 great to get this one for sure,” said Kenseth. “A great racing organization obviously at Joe Gibbs Racing, everyone at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) have done a great job. These engines and power and designs we have – I’m thankful to be driving this thing. Thanks to Dollar General, DeWALT – they’re great sponsors – Citizen, Gatorade, WileyX, Interstate Batteries – we have great partners and couldn’t do it without them. We were tight all night on restarts and then finally on that last one we got so loose I thought Kyle (Larson) was going to get by me. Kept digging the best I could and tried to hold on.”

While Kenseth was celebrating in victory lane, the runner-up finish for Larson and the third place finish for Elliott counted as their best finishes of the season. The remainder of the top-10 went to Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex, Jr., and Trevor Bayne.

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 Truex 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 on in the race.

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.

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,” said Brad Keselowski, who was involved in one of the 12 cautions mid-way through the race, but was able to finish sixth.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 4

  • MENCS Practice (10:30 am to 11:55 am – FOX Sports 2)
  • MENCS Qualifying (3:50 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, June 5

  • MENCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, June 6

  • MENCS AAA 400 Drive for Autism (1:00 pm – 400 laps, 400 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.