Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DOVER, DE – All of NASCAR’s national series are prepared for tight and robust competition during the perennial popular Dover International Speedway tripleheader weekend.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headlines the stop with Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after a dramatic race at Talladega Superspeedway a week ago.
The competitive mindset shifts from the sport’s largest venue at Talladega to Dover’s notoriously tough “Monster Mile” where the track’s all-time winningest driver Jimmie Johnson is hoping to return to Victory Lane for a 12th trophy – in what would be his first series victory since the spring of 2017 at Dover.
“I’ve had Dover circled on the calendar for a while,” Johnson conceded. “It’s going to be different – lots of throttle and probably more like the 2015 rules package that we had there.
“I’ve loved that place since I raced in the ASA Series. I’ve always run well there, so I’m excited to get there. Last time we had a freak mechanical issue before we even started the race and didn’t have a chance to get into the mix.”
No one has been statistically better than Johnson at Dover. His 11-win tally is one of the best efforts in the sport’s modern era – the most wins at a one track since Darrell Waltrip scored a 12th victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1972.
The 43-year old California native Johnson has led the most laps (3,105) in history at the track and heading into this weekend’s 400-miler, he boasts a 10.9 average finish and 9.9 average start at Dover – incredible statistics for someone with 34 starts.
Johnson’s first-year Monster Energy Series crew chief Kevin Meendering has five top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in that role and is ready to restore Johnson’s prolific streak of success.
The two-year lag in trophies is the longest in Johnson’s seven-championship career and 2018 marked the first time he has gone an entire calendar year without a victory in 18 fulltime Cup seasons.
Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has four top-10s through the opening 10 races of the season but comes to Dover after a disappointing 33rd-place showing at Talladega where he blew a right front tire after running over debris only 26 laps into the 188-lapper. The finish dropped him from 13th to 16th in the standings.
But the rough last outing has not dampened Johnson’s enthusiasm, confidence or hopes when it comes to competing at Dover International Speedway.
“It’s the site of so many good memories for me, I can’t wait,” Johnson said.
DASH 4 CASH FINAL ROUND
Saturday’s Allied Steel Buildings 200 at Dover (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the fourth and final round of the popular Dash 4 Cash incentive program. Last week’s Talladega Superspeedway winner Tyler Reddick, along with Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Gray Gaulding are eligible for the final $100,000 bonus. The highest finisher among the four on Saturday will win the money.
Bell (at Bristol), Cole Custer (at Richmond) and Reddick (at Talladega) are the previous three 2019 bonus check winners.
Bell is the only driver among the four currently eligible with a previous Xfinity Series victory at the notoriously tough Dover “Monster Mile.” He won in the series last visit to Dover in October, 2018. He has finished top-five in his two starts on the track and led 110 laps. Reddick won the 2015 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Dover. He has one top-five in three Xfinity starts and led 23 laps. This is only Briscoe’s second Xfinity race at Dover. He finished 19th in his debut last Fall. Gaulding also has only one previous series start at the track, finishing 34th in 2017.
JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier is the defending race winner. He, Bell, Jeff Green and Morgan Shepherd are the only former winners entered.
Reddick – the reigning series champion – leads the Xfinity Series championship standings again, 32-points over Bell and 73 over third place Austin Cindric.
GANDER TRUCKS RETURN
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series returns to competition after a four-week break in the schedule with the JEG’S 200 (Friday, May 4 at 5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The series kicks off the tripleheader NASCAR weekend with what has typically been a very competitive race.
Two-time series champion Johnny Sauter has won the last two races at Dover’s “Monster Mile” but returns to try and become the first ever to win three consecutive after switching teams and manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford power.
Current championship leader, Canadian Stewart Friesen, hopes to improve his history on one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. He holds a six-point edge on Grant Enfinger in the standings coming into the weekend’s race. But Friesen has an averages finish of 25.5 at Dover, crashing out in both of his previous starts at the track. Enfinger’s average finish at Dover is 8.5.
Two-time series champ Matt Crafton and Sauter are the only former winners in Friday’s field.