Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the 2021 Drydene 400 at Dover

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The Monster Mile. Bristol on steroids. No matter the nickname, Dover International Speedway lives up to the hype as being one of the most physically demanding racetracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.

One of the only two concrete tracks currently in use by NASCAR’s top division, drivers have likened a lap around the one-mile oval to riding a rollercoaster, as they drop off the straightaways into the turns before rocketing back uphill on corner exit. By the time the checkered flag flies, it’s as if you have just been through a boxing match with Mike Tyson.

Since the track’s third year on the circuit in 1971, Dover has hosted two races a year, but with the schedule shakeup in 2021, the demanding track will only host one race this year – Sunday’s running of the Drydene 400.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin will lead the field to green, with the Hendrick Motorsports duo of William Byron and Kyle Larson making up the second row. The remainder of the top-10 starters include: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Chris Buescher.

By the Numbers

What: Drydene 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 13 of 36

Where: Dover International Speedway – Dover, Delaware (First race: 1969)

When: Sunday, May 16

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 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

2020 Doubleheader Race 1 Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started second, 115 laps led)

2020 Doubleheader Race 2 Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 17th, 223 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:

  1. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.5
  2. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 103.3
  3. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 101.2
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 98.6
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 93.2
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 91.2
  7. Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 89.2
  8. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 88.9
  9. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 87.2
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 86.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“it’s probably one of the most unique places we go to because the rubber lays down really heavy and the track gets really wide, depending on what tire and downforce package we have,” said Corey LaJoie. “Obviously, we have the low downforce package. So, we’re going to get up the race track quite a bit searching for grip and trying to get a better run down the hill and put power down on the straightaways.

“I’ve had success there in a K&N car there in year’s past and have run well there in a Xfinity car, so I always have confidence going to the Monster Mile. But that’s a place, man, where it’s really car dependent. Your car has to get over the bumps. Your shocks have to be dialed in and you have to have a lot of downforce and a lot of motor. So, it’s one of the more-heavier-dependent car tracks that we go to on the circuit. And if you’re off a little bit, compared to those leaders, you’re in the way. This is the most excited I’ve been in my career going to Dover in a Cup car just because I know what we continue to build to.”

Last Time at Dover

The first race of the Dover doubleheader last August came down to a battle between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin for the win.

With just over 30 laps to go, Truex held the lead, but found himself pinned in behind lapped traffic, specifically the No. 10 car of Aric Almirola. The laps spent running behind Almirola looking for a way around allowed Hamlin to close the gap on his teammate, with the two duking it out for the lead for a handful of laps.

Eventually, Hamlin would pull a crossover move on Truex, passing him for the lead with 9 laps to go, crossing the finish line just over a second ahead of Truex for his first win at Dover and sixth of the season.

“it’s awesome.  I mean, I can’t even tell you,” Hamlin said. “The Monster trophy is very, very cool.  I’ve always been very envious of the people that had them.  I felt like I was always a fifth-place driver at this racetrack.  Like I said, my teammates were in front, a few more here and there that were slightly better at times.

“I feel like I’ve gotten better.  Obviously, I’m in the prime of my career right now, got things rolling.  But this definitely gives me a ton of confidence winning at a track I would arguably say is my worst.”

While the first half of the doubleheader featured some action late, the second race was just an old-fashioned beat-down.

Kevin Harvick was the dominant driver of the day, leading 223 of 311 laps en route to clinching the regular season championship and one-upping season rival Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson gambled by staying out on track for the last restart, but his worn tires were no match for Harvick and the others behind as they quickly dispatched him and Harvick streaked to the win by 3.5 seconds over Martin Truex, Jr.

“I love the grit of our race team,” said Harvick. “I think that’s what (team owners) Gene Haas and Tony Stewart have built at Stewart-Haas Racing, a team with a lot of grit.

“Sometimes we don’t have the fastest car, but we have guys willing to suck it up, and when we have a weak link that day, someone else will carry the team. I’m really proud of that, and that’s what it’s all about. You’re only as good as the people around you, and we have great people.

“With Denny winning yesterday, we needed to win today, and we need all the points we can get. I think, as you look at these Playoffs, you never know what to expect. But I know that, as we go week to week, we’ll give it all we have, and I’m just really proud.”

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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.