NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s DuraMAX Drydene 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN)

Is This It For Dover?

It was announced last Fall that SMI has purchased Dover. Immediately, the future of the track came into question. See, Dover used to be independently owned but now that they’ve joined SMI, how much longer would they have a race?

Dover began hosting Cup races in 1969 and in 1971, started playing host to two Cup dates a year. Last year though, a date was taken away and now the question is, will another one be added for 2023?

One of Dover’s two dates from 2020 was used at Nashville for 2021. It stayed the same for 2022. Will SMI leave Dover alone for 2023 or will they slide their date elsewhere?

Most think SMI may just sell the property off and gain some revenue from it and then use some of that money to help refurbish the Nashville Fairgrounds even further. Right now, the plan originally was to use the Nashville Superspeedway race and their profits to turn over to the Fairgrounds. A sale of Dover would help too.

Could that cost Dover it’s date? Is this the last time we see a Cup race at the Monster Mile?

The crowds have drastically dropped over the years as the racing has gotten progressively worse. Dover is a hard track to get right anyhow. It’s a fast one mile high banked oval. That’s not an easy one to pass on. Then, if you factor in high tire wear and have an old school type of race, you get folks mad at that too.

So, where the sweetspot?

I don’t think there is one and it may potentially cost Dover a race.

Will This Be A Quiet Month Out Of The Team Penske Camp

Team Penske has been quiet again. While the finishes are improving and the fact that they have 2 drivers in the top 6 of the points in great, the thing is, they’ve combined to land in victory lane also just once all season and that came back in the season opener in Daytona.

The 2 car has won twice in the last two years with both being in superspeedway’s at that. Joey Logano has just two wins in the last two years as well with one being on dirt and the other in a football stadium (Busch Light Clash). He’s not won a points paying race in over a year. His last non points paying race win not on dirt?

Oct. 18, 2020 in Kansas.

He’s had two wins in the last 77 races.

Ryan Blaney has been the most consistent in finding victory lane he hasn’t won since the 2021 regular season finale. In saying that, I also don’t expect much out of them this weekend in Dover either. I can make a strong case to where they won’t win a race at all this month.

Former driver Brad Keselowski, hadn’t had a top five in his last nine Dover starts. Blaney, has never had a top five in 11 Dover tries while Logano has two top fives in his last 13 Monster Mile appearances in Cup.

So, will their struggles continue?

Then, it’s to Darlington to where Cindric is a Cup rookie, Blaney has 1 top 10 and 0 top 5’s in 10 tries and Logano having having 0 wins and just 4 top 5’s in 16 starts.

From Darlington, we go to Kansas where Blaney has 5 finishes of 20th or worse in his last 6 starts. Logano won the 2020 Fall race but that’s his only top 5 in the last 7 starts there. 4 of his last 6 have seen him finish 15th or worse.

The next points paying race is Charlote where Blaney was third in 2020 but that’s his only top five in 10 oval starts there. Logano has 1 top 5 in his last 9 Charlotte oval starting including 6 of his last 8 being 13th or worse.

Cindric being a rookie means there’s not much to use for him. For Blaney, he has a total of 4 top five finishes on the May tracks with 3 of which being at Kansas.

For Logano, these also aren’t his better tracks.

DOVER, DELAWARE – MAY 16: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota, leads the field at the start during the NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 16, 2021 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Will We See Another Dominating Day In Dover?

Dover is a track that lends to dominating performances, which leads me to believe that this weekend could be another place where someone leads over half the race.

In 2020, Denny Hamlin led 115 of 311 laps in Race 1 while Kevin Harvick led 223 in 311 in Race 2. Both won those respective days. In 2019, Kyle Larson led 154 of 400 laps in his playoff win. That spring, Martin Truex Jr. led 132 of 400 laps in his win. Chase Elliott also led 145 laps that day too and finished fifth.

In 2018, Harvick led 201 of 400 laps and won the spring race. He also led 286 of the 404 laps in the playoff race but finished sixth.

In the 2017 playoff race, Elliott led 138 laps and Larson 137. Neither won but both finished in the top five. In the spring of that year, Larson led 201 laps and Truex 102. They finished second and third respectively.

If you go back to 2016 even, we’ve had 10 straight races at Dover to where someone led at least 100 laps.

So, expect someone to keep it going this Sunday.

Last year, Larson led 263 of 400 laps in a second place effort. Bowman, led 98 laps and took home the win.

The thing is, the guys that have dominated this season haven’t turned them into victories. Just look at the winners on the season.

Austin Cindric led 0 laps before Lap 156 at Daytona. All his laps led came in the final stage.

Kyle Larson led 1 lap before Lap 167 in Fontana. Again, all but 1 of his laps led came in the final stage.

Alex Bowman had just 13 laps led before Lap 272 in Vegas.

Chase Briscoe had only led 19 total laps before Lap 230 in Phoenix.

William Byron had only led 20 laps before Lap 143 in Atlanta.

Ross Chastain had no laps led in the first two stages of COTA.

Denny Hamlin had no laps led in the first 395 laps in Richmond.

William Byron led no laps in the first two stages in Martinsville.

Kyle Busch led no laps in the first 249 laps in Bristol. The only lap he led was the final one.

Ross Chastain led no laps in the first 187 laps in Talladega. The only lap he led was the final one.

Just 3 times in the first 10 races has the driver who’s led the most laps actually celebrated in victory lane on that day. The driver with the most laps led does have 6 top 5 finishes and 8 top 10’s, but they’re just not winning. Furthermore, the race winner really doesn’t tend to come along now until the final stage.

That’s 6 races where the winner didn’t even lead a lap in the first two stages and another where they had led just 1 lap. Also, 2 of the last 5 races saw a driver lead every lap of the opening stage. Neither driver won outright in the end.

Does Dover Start Dominating Stretch For Byron/Bowman?

William Byron and Alex Bowman are on the cusp of a break out. Byron, has 4 top 5’s in his last 8 races to go along with leading the most laps in 4 of the last 6 weeks in general. He led 111 laps in his Atlanta win, 122 more in his third place run at Richmond, 212 in his Martinsville win and 38 more in Talladega. Bowman has 6 top 10’s the last 8 weeks including a win and a runner-up in that span.

Now that the month has turned to May, this could further move them down the line as legitimate championship contenders. It starts at Dover to where Bowman won at last spring and Byron was in fourth. Bowman, has 4 top 5’s in his last 5 Dover starts with Byron having two straight fourth place results there too. Then it’s Darlington where Byron has 2 top 5’s in the last 3 tries and Bowman being sixth in this race in 2020. Kansas is up next with Byron having 5 straight top 10’s and Bowman having 6 top 11’s in his last 7. Then you get to Charlotte for the ‘600 where Byron was fourth last year and Bowman in fifth.

These two may not slow down any time soon…

Will Sunday’s Race Be A Truex Jr./Larson Show Again And Set Them Up For The Next Month?

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have to be the top two drivers on the list to beat for Sunday’s race. Truex, has 3 runner-up finishes in his last four Dover starts. He won the race prior to that span too. Larson, has 3 straight top 3 finishes at Dover including a playoff win in 2019 as well as a runner-up last year to where he led 263 of 400 laps.

If you’re looking for a winner for Sunday’s race, start here.

The thing is, both have struggled lately. Kyle Larson has just 3 top fives in his last 7 starts on the year. In fact, he has 5 top fives all season but when he’s not in the top 5, he’s finishing 29th or worse.

For Truex Jr., he has just 2 top five finishes all year.

Now though, it’s time for each to kick it into gear. Among Darlington, Kansas, Charlotte, Gateway, Sonoma and Nashville up next, Larson won the last time out in 3 of the 6 with 1 of the other 3 being a first stop there. Truex, won this race at Darlington last year too.

For Darlington, they finished 1-2 last year with Larson scoring three straight runner-up finishes at the Lady in Black and third in 2 of the 3 prior. Truex, led 248 laps last year and was fourth in the Southern 500. He also led 196 laps in the 2020 Southern 500 too.

Kansas is up after Darlington to where Truex has 9 top 10’s in his last 10 tries including 7 in the top 6. Larson, won the last time out there and led the most laps in the spring race before too. He has 3 top 4’s in his last 6 Kansas starts.

Then it’s to Charlotte for the ‘600 to where Larson won last year too in dominating fashion. Truex, has 8 top 6’s in his last 11 on the Charlotte oval including three wins and a runner-up.

From there it’s to an inaugural race in Gateway before going to Sonoma where Truex and Larson have combined to win each of the last three on the wine country road course. Nashville is after and that’s a place Larson won at last year too.

Between now and the end of June, I expect Larson and Truex to have combined to win multiple times.

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