Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Dover International Speedway for the first of two trips to the “Monster Mile.” With no other track to compare it to, Dover provides a unique style of racing twice a year that sometimes produces interesting finishes.
Conversations following the race at Talladega Superspeedway have been focused on the steady decline of the sport. ‘What’s next for NASCAR?’ is a common question asked around the garage each weekend.
With the 2010s close to officially designated as a decade of decline, NASCAR can go in two directions in the 2020s: The unlikely direction of continuing down the same road, or a new, simpler direction that can make the 2020s a decade of renaissance.
The race at Dover couldn’t come at a better time as there are plenty of on-track questions that need to be answered.
Will Kyle Larson or Jimmie Johnson find victory lane for the first time this season at one of their better tracks? Can the Fords continue to dominate the early part of the season? Will Martin Truex Jr. continue his hot streak at Dover?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Dover International Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr.
Dover International Speedway has become Martin Truex Jr.’s personal playground recently. That’s a much welcomed change from Talladega Superspeedway, where Truex finished 26th.
“We had a pretty good car and felt our Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Camry could be a contender, but we never got that opportunity,” Truex said after the race.
Heading into Dover, the No. 78 team will have plenty of confidence. Truex’s worst finish in his last three races at Dover is fourth and he has led a combined 340 laps and scored one victory in those three races.
“Dover is a beast,” said Truex in his pre-race team release. “It will eat you up if you’re not on your game and not in attack mode all the time. It really tests your skills, and every part of your skill set is used there.”
The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion knows how to win at Dover and has the best average finish, 2.7, among all drivers in the last three races. As is the case almost every week, Truex will be a factor at Dover.
Kyle Larson has led the most laps, 378, of all drivers in the last three races at DoverInternational Speedway. Despite that, he finds himself with an average finish of 10.7 which is sixth best.
Leading laps doesn’t always equate to wins, but in Larson’s five career victories, four of them have seen him lead more than 40 laps in a race. Two of those wins had him lead more than 90 laps.
Larson running well at a track like Dover makes sense, given his tendency to search around a track for grip. Larson has yet to win this season, which is a surprise since last year he won by the fifth race and then added three more wins throughout the year.
Chase Elliott trails only Truex when it comes to best average finish among active drivers in the last three races at Dover International Speedway.
With finishes of second, fifth and third, Elliott heads to one of his best tracks in search of his first career victory. The last time the series visited Dover, Elliott led 138 laps but came up one position short of his first win.
Elliott has had some close calls at Dover before, battling Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson for the victory in the closing laps of the spring 2016 race.
Elliott has been the most consistent of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets this season. But he finds himself buried in the point standings due to two separate penalties.
Kevin Harvick hasn’t visited victory lane in seven races. That wouldn’t seem like many for some, but for Harvick who visited victory lane three straight times earlier this season, that might seem like forever ago.
A trip to Dover International Speedway, a track Harvick enjoys racing at, could change that.
“For me, the thing I love about Dover is just the fact it’s hammer down and you’re up on top of the wheel for 400 laps there,” said Harvick in his pre-race team release.
“It’s violent. Everything about Dover is violent. It’s fast. You can just be aggressive with the car and you have to get in there and wrestle that thing all day because it’s bumpy, slings you up out of the corners, dumps you down in the corners, and there’s just a lot going on.”
When looking at the last three races at Dover, the Monster Mile hasn’t been very kind to Harvick. During the last three races he has a best finish of ninth and has led zero laps.
In the three race stretch before that, Harvick had one win, 563 laps led and a worse finish of 15h.
“It’s one of my favorite racetracks to go and race on,” said Harvick, and it’s easy to see why.
Daniel Suarez only has two races in the NASCAR Cup Series under his belt at DoverInternational Speedway, but he’s made the most of them.
In his rookie season last year, Suarez finished sixth and eighth in the two races at Dover. Two finishes inside the top-ten for a rookie, on one of the most demanding tracks, was impressive.
Whether or not Suarez can back those finishes up in his sophomore season is yet to be known. Right now he sits 21st in the point standings, the lowest of all Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, but is coming off of back-to-back tenth place finishes. Dover could be the right track for Saurez to keep the momentum going.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.