Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Up to Speed – Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

After a trip to New England for the second race in the Chase, the Round of 16 comes down to this. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Dover International Speedway for the running of the Citizen Soldier 400, which will determine which drivers will join Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick in the next round.

As one of the only 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?

By the Numbers

Opened: 1969

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

Banking: Turns: 24°; Straights: 9°

Pit Road Speed: 35mph

Pace Car Speed: 45mph

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

October 2015 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet (Started 15th, () laps led)

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

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:

  • No. 48 Chevrolet – Jimmie Johnson – 118.1
  • No. 20 Toyota – Matt Kenseth – 108.5
  • No. 18 Toyota – Kyle Busch – 104.5
  • No. 42 Chevrolet – Kyle Larson – 99.3
  • No. 19 Toyota – Carl Edwards – 99.1
  • No. 24 Chevrolet – Chase Elliott – 96.7
  • No. 88 Chevrolet – Jeff Gordon – 96.0
  • No. 16 Ford – Greg Biffle – 94.3
  • No. 78 Toyota – Martin Truex Jr. – 92.4
  • No. 4 Chevrolet – Kevin Harvick – 92.3

Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings:

  1. Martin Truex, Jr. (Chicagoland Winner)
  2. Kevin Harvick (New Hampshire Winner)
  3. Brad Keselowski (+35 ahead of Round of 12 cut-off)
  4. Kyle Busch (+33)
  5. Matt Kenseth (+26)
  6. Joey Logano (+21)
  7. Denny Hamlin (+19)
  8. Jimmie Johnson (+18)
  9. Chase Elliott (+16)
  10. Carl Edwards (+16)
  11. Kurt Busch (+15)
  12. Kyle Larson (+5)
  13. Jamie McMurray (-5)
  14. Austin Dillon (-5)
  15. Tony Stewart (-11)
  16. Chris Buescher (-30)

From the Driver’s Seat

“Dover, being a concrete track, is challenging. They’re all a challenge, but Dover is especially so, just because of the way you have to run around that place. The way tires sometimes wear out. The way the rubber gets put down there. You’ve got to be fast through the corner. Two-thirds of your lap time is through the turns rather than down the straightaway, so you definitely have to make sure you have a good-handling racecar – one that’s good in the beginning of the run on low air pressures and one that’s good at the end of the run on high air pressures, and even through traffic, too. Some of the most challenging times are when you’re trying to get through traffic with guys,” said Kyle Busch.

“It’s definitely a fast racetrack. It’s a fun racetrack, too. It makes it interesting when you get to traffic, when you have to pass guys, when you’re kind of falling down into the hole and jumping back up out of the hole to the straightaways. It’s a good place to race. It’s a competitive racetrack and, when the rubber gets laid down, it definitely changes the whole atmosphere and the whole way you run around that place.”

Last Time at Dover

The always treacherous Dover International Speedway lived up to its “Monster Mile” nickname the last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited, 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. 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,” said Kenseth.

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.

Who to Watch

  • Chase Elliott – Dover served as Elliott’s best career finish to date after the race back in May after Elliott was in the mix for the win along with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson. Though Elliott had to settle for third after starting 13th, he should have plenty of confidence for another strong run this weekend.
  • Kyle Larson – There’s just something about Larson on concrete tracks. Each time a concrete track comes up on the schedule, Larson is always one of the cars to beat, and Dover is no exception. In his five starts, he has two top-10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in May, along with four top-10 finishes, 85 laps led, and an average finish of 6.2. With just a five point gap on his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray, he’ll need to continue his trend of good finishes on Sunday in order to advance.
  • Ryan Blaney – Blaney may not have won last time out at Dover, he was able to take a poor qualifying effort of 18th to finish the day in eighth place. With Blaney and his team not in the Chase, they can take chances that other teams can’t and could try some strategy moves to get Blaney in position to win.
  • Jimmie Johnson – Johnson is without a doubt the best driver at Dover in the Cup Series garage, but has had mechanical failures hamper him in the last two races at the track with finishes of 41st and 25th, and will be looking for redemption this weekend and yet another win at the Monster Mile. In 29 starts, Johnson has 10 wins (2002 sweep, 2005, 2009 sweep, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), 15 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, five poles, 3003 laps led, and an average finish of 9.6.
  • Jeff Gordon – Back in the No. 88 car in relief of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this weekend at Dover, Gordon will be making his 47th start at the track and looking to make another trip to victory lane. Gordon has five wins (1995, 1996 sweep, 2001, and 2014), 18 top-five finishes, 26 top-10 finishes, four poles, 2389 laps led, and an average finish of 11.4.
  • Carl Edwards – Edwards was in the mix for the win last time out at Dover, before a crash late in the race resulted in a 28th place finish. With a 16 point advantage on the Chase cut-off, Edwards will be looking for a repeat of his performance from May, minus the crash, to race his way into the Round of 12. Edwards has one win (2007), eight top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, 563 laps led, and an average finish of 11.5 in 24 starts.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, September 30

  • NSCS Practice (10:00 am to 11:25 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • NSCS Qualifying (3:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, October 1

  • NSCS Practice (10:30 am to 11:25 am – CNBC)
  • NSCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, October 2

  • NSCS Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover (2:00 pm – 400 laps, 400 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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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.

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