DOVER, Del. – For the past 54 years, Dover Motor Speedway has been a speed palace compacted into a 1-mile oval layout. From its beginnings as an asphalt arena from 1969 to 1994 to its current state as a concrete beast since 1995, anyone who conquers “The Monster Mile” is a true warrior in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Dover is one of the most physically grueling tracks in the circuit that tests drivers, crews and machines. Drivers clock in lap times of just around 22.6 seconds, or just under 159 mph in terms of average speed.
Just imagine trying to do that 1-mile jaunter in your neighborhood on foot. It does not take much to realize and appreciate the speed of these Cup cars especially with the effort just to get a mile between seven to 15 minutes, depending on your pace.
Now, imagine having to go that fast for 400 laps with 36 total cars on track. In addition, the corners are banked at 24 degrees while the straights are banked at nine degrees. Suddenly, that physical challenge is more complex with the mental fortitude to pick and choose battles with a track that has become rougher on these softer Goodyear Eagle tires.
For crew chiefs, it is either a delight or nightmare having to plan out strategies with the limited sets of tires available for race day. On top of that, it is not uncommon for fuel mileage to be a factor for race day which means the fuelman has to get every gallon of Sunoco fuel right down to the last drop.
With these factors in mind, it is clear why Dover is a favorite for stock car competition. While Mother Nature may be a party pooper as she has been for three of the past five spring races, race days in “The First State” are typically memorable and competitive.
Once the flagman unfurls the green flag on race day, it is anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this year’s Würth 400 at Dover. For the time being, come along for the ride this and each race weekend with Podium Preview.
This weekend, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis Torres, Matt Sisoler, Stephen Conley, Teresa Bennink and yours truly consider the movers who will shake their way to the front of the pack and the pros and cons of extracurricular racing activities.
With the Würth 400 starting lineup at Dover jumbled up due to inclement weather, who are some drivers that can make some early noise despite their metric starting position?
Shoppe : Looking over the starting lineup set by the metric due to weather, Joey Logano stands out to me as someone who will be working his way forward from 26th. Also, keep your eyes on Row 9 as Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson will be moving forward for sure.
Lambeth : I don’t think Todd Gilliland is getting enough credit for the job he’s doing this season, despite having to bounce between three rides to complete the full 36-race schedule. Up until Martinsville, Gilliland had a four-race top-15 streak.
The sophomore Cup driver is definitely overachieving in his second year with the Front Row Motorsports program in the NASCAR Cup Series. Dover could be a golden opportunity for Gilliland to start a new streak for the next four races, before switching back to Rick Ware Racing’s No. 15 Ford Mustang in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.
Tiongson : I think we’ll need to focus on Row 9’s Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson along with 26th place starter Joey Logano. These three are consistent frontrunners and past Cup champions.
Moreover, they are the kind of racers that can excel and thrive in less than ideal conditions. Each is methodical, aggressive when needed but smart when it comes to their craft. I look for these three to finish inside the top by Stage 1 and be in the mix for the victory on Monday afternoon.
Conley : I think the first row you have to look at is Row 9. Kyle Larson starts in the middle of the pack. His speed and dominance all season won’t let him linger there for long.
Also, Austin Dillon starts last. His teammate, Kyle Busch, is on the pole with multiple wins already. I expect Dillion inside the top 15 by the end of Stage 1.
With Alex Bowman out for the next four weeks due to a fractured vertebrae from an accident during a High Limit Sprint Series race at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa, should more team owners, aside from Joe Gibbs Racing, consider limiting their drivers’ extracurricular activities?
Sisoler : I could see it happening, given how much money team owners pour into their guys to make sure they’re at the top of their games. However, given the potential for burnout that we see in the top echelon of stock car racing, I would really hope that team owners see these things as freak accidents.
Racing is dangerous, but someone could just as easily slip on a tennis ball chasing their pooch around at home and break something. They’re all accidents, and I would hope that owners see the racing outside of NASCAR as a mental break for their guys and a good way to garner additional exposure in positive ways and not as just an additional injury risk.
Sharpe : This was a topic that was thoroughly discussed during our newest podcast episode (go check it out!). Being a NASCAR driver is a mentally and physically exhausting career that takes up a great deal of time. It’s not just being at the track, but also includes sponsor seeking, meeting with various groups (including sponsors, fans, and employees), physical training, sim training, and other activities.
The accident that occurred with Alex Bowman recently (just as well as Chase Elliott) was just that; an accident. Drivers should have the ability to pursue and do activities outside of their main job. Even the most mundane things like walking and sleeping have the risk of potential injuries and people often forget these individuals are human.
While this is the second time this season a driver has been injured outside of the sport, personally I don’t think teams should restrict what drivers can or cannot do in their freetime. At least not until the Playoffs are occurring where the stakes are high and the need for a driver’s complete attention and focus should be on winning the championship.
I hope this does not change how Hendrick Motorsports treats their drivers, as I believe all the outside racing opportunities do help with improving their skills overall. This also gives them more publicity and draws more people to the sport.
Torres : I like to call this concern the “Stefan Bellof Conspiracy Rule.” I call it as such because to me, drivers exploring different disciplines, especially in Formula One, waned real bad after Bellof’s death in a sports car race at Spa-Francorchamps.
If you want to drive F1, you’re exclusively staying there until you retire or out of a ride. No sports car, no nothing! F1 only and that’s that! Even the FIA would do everything to stop guys from running Le Mans, especially after Nico Hülkenberg won at the 24-hour race.
The last thing I want to see is NASCAR owners going back to that concept where nobody can race elsewhere. Joe Gibbs has put the kibosh on Christopher Bell, arguably one of the best active dirt racers today. I don’t want any team to restrict racers because it’s very hard to see who really is the best race car driver when you forbid them to try different cars.
That’s why folks get excited when Kimi Räikkönen, Kurt Busch, Scott McLaughlin and Fernando Alonso racing in other types of cars. It gives fans something to look forward to because back in the day, racers would travel around the country or even around the world, hoping their success would translate into other cars.
Because of Bowman’s sprint car crash, I hope owners don’t overreact and stop guys and gals from exploring different disciplines. To me, it makes drivers better.
Now I can understand some who’ll only race in one discipline. All respect to them, but those who dabble on different cars, let them have at it. They know the risks. Owners should know the risks too.
Those were two memorable, action packed laps around Dover! Before we proceed further, grab those remotes and rewind to last Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega, Round 10 of 36 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, as we reflect on our race and points reports!
With Mother Nature canceling qualifying, here’s a look at the top 10 starters for Monday’s Würth 400 at Dover!
Row 1: Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell
Row 2: Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski
Row 3: Chris Buescher and Chase Briscoe
Row 4: Tyler Reddick and William Byron
Row 5: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Elliott
Lastly, here’s our picks for Monday’s Würth 400 at Dover!
Lambeth : In order to make the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Chase Elliott will need to win a race to fight for this year’s championship. Coming to a place like Dover seems like a great spot for Elliott to punch his ticket to the postseason and pick up his third career Cup win at the Monster Mile, entering this event as the defending race winner.
Sisoler : Chase Elliott has always seemed to run consistently well at Dover, given that he is the defending race winner, won in 2018 and has a 75 percent success rate of finishing in the top five and top 10 at the Monster Mile. If any current driver is the wrangler of Miles the Monster, it’s the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet that rolls off from P10 on Monday.
Sharpe : Joey Logano, the Multi-Championship Team Penske driver, was strong during the practice sessions on Saturday afternoon, even with a poorly behaving car. Dover is a mentally and physically demanding track that takes a lot of time and skill to master. Joey has both, and proved Saturday that he can overcome a poor handling car to produce a great result.
Shoppe : Kyle Larson will rebound from his hard crash last week with his second win at The Monster Mile!
Tiongson : By far, Kyle Larson’s average finish at Dover is an impressive 6.9. This track clearly speaks to his racing style and savvy in a Cup car. He has a victory, the final from his Chip Ganassi era, on Oct. 6, 2019. I would not be surprised to see Larson take his third win of 2023.
Conley : If for no other reason, to double up with his brother’s win on Saturday, make it a Double Truex monster slaying weekend with Martin Truex Jr. winning on Monday.
Torres : Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s best race of 2022 was Dover. Had he had more laps to play with, he would’ve caught Chase Elliott without much trouble. Fast forward to 2023, he already has a win, so he can play it safe.
But if there’s one track Stenhouse can showcase the overall progress of the No. 47 team isn’t a fluke, the Monster Mile is the perfect place for Stenhouse to get his first non-superspeedway win in the Cup Series.
We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win? Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!
Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week as we celebrate our 15th anniversary of operations!
The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.
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