Two races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and the first round comes down to the Monster Mile to determine which 12 drivers move on with their shot at the title still intact.
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.
The one mile high banked oval 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?
Heading into Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400, Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Brad Keselowski have all clinched a spot in the round of 12, while the final eight spots will be decided on the Dover high banks.
Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Kevin Harvick should be relatively safe with points margins over the cut-off line ranging from 44 to 25 points, respectively.
However, things are anything but safe for the remaining six drivers.
Jamie McMurray carries a nine point lead over 13th into Dover, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is tied with Austin Dillon in 13th, Ryan Newman sits just one point back, and it’s a virtual must-win situation for Kurt Busch (-17) and Kasey Kahne (-21).
By the Numbers
What: Apache Warrior 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 29 of 36
Where: Dover International Speedway – Dover, Delaware (First race: 1969)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 2:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.0-mile concrete oval
Banking: 24 degrees in turns, nine degrees on straightaways
Race Length: 400 laps, 400 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 120 laps each; Final Stage: 160 laps
June 2017 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 14th, seven laps led)
October 2016 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started second, 187 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (21.892 seconds, 164.444 mph – 06/01/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Dover:
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 118.3 (11 wins)
- Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 108.5 (3 wins)
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 105.2 (2 wins)
- Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 100.2 (Best finish: 3rd)
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 99.6 (Best finish: 2nd)
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 96.1 (2 wins)
- Erik Jones – No. 77 Toyota – 96.0 (Best finish: 15th)
- Daniel Suarez – No. 19 Toyota – 94.1 (Best finish: 6th)
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 91.2 (1 win)
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 89.7 (1 win)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Martin Truex, Jr. (Advanced – Chicagoland win)
- Kyle Busch (Advanced – New Hampshire win)
- Kyle Larson (Advanced on points)
- Brad Keselowski (Advanced on points)
- Denny Hamlin (+44)
- Matt Kenseth (+43)
- Jimmie Johnson (+32)
- Ryan Blaney (+26)
- Chase Elliott (+26)
- Kevin Harvick (+25)
- Jamie McMurray (+9)
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (Tied with 13th)
- Austin Dillon (Tied with 12th)
- Ryan Newman (-1)
- Kurt Busch (-17)
- Kasey Kahne (-21)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Dover is probably one of my favorite tracks and always has been,” said Kasey Kahne. “It’s definitely one of the more difficult tracks. The hardest thing about Dover is on a long run your tires build up with so much air that your car starts bouncing a lot more and your head starts moving around a lot more. Every time the car bounces it tries to take grip out of the front or rear tires, whichever one is close to sliding. Trying to control that as a driver and with the balance of your car to me is key to really running well there.”
Last Time at Dover
There’s just something about Jimmie Johnson and Dover that the seven-time champion has been able to harness over the years and the first race at the track in June was no exception.
Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson may have been the dominant figures of the day, leading a combined 343 laps, but when it was go time, Johnson was there to strike.
As Larson held a lead of more than two seconds with three laps to go in regulation, David Ragan crashed in Turn 2, bringing out the caution and pushing the race to overtime. On the final restart, Johnson got a better restart than Larson to take over the lead and never looked back en route to his 11th win on the concrete oval.
Not only did Johnson increase his win record at the track, he also tied Hall of Famer Cale Yarbrough at 83 wins, with the two now sharing sixth on the all-time wins list.
“I never thought I would end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt out in Southern California,” said Johnson. “I was a big Cale Yarborough fan and I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s. I had no idea it was a burger stand and I really thought when I walked in the door I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop (laughs). It was very disappointing. I had a burger and left and then understood the world of sponsorship.
“To be here and tie him at 83 wins is amazing. We just got the tribute helmet. I wasn’t sure how quickly we’d be, or if we’d be able to go there, and get it done. But, Cale, you’re the man. Thank you for all you have done for our sport.
“To be a part of one team and one sponsor, Lowe’s, Chevrolet, Valvoline, Gatorade, and with the support of the fans, this is an amazing day.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 29
- MENCS Practice (10:00 am to 11:25 am – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (3:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, September 30
- MENCS Practice (10:30 am to 11:25 am – CNBC)
- MENCS Final Practice (1:00 pm to 1:55 pm – CNBC)
Sunday, October 1
- MENCS Apache Warrior 400 (2:00 pm – 400 laps, 400 miles – NBC Sports Network)