Is This Hendrick Motorsports’ Race To Lose?
It’s no secret, Hendrick Motorsports has bar none been the top team in the sport this season. Now, they’re heading to one of their best tracks at the Dover Motor Speedway. Are they untouchable this weekend?
They went 1-2-3-4 in 2021 and 1-5-6 last year. They’ve also won all three races on tracks 1-mile or less this season with William Byron winning in Phoenix and Kyle Larson at Richmond and Martinsville. HMS also led 94 of 400 laps in their win a year ago while leading 382 of 400 laps (95.5%) in ’21.
Kyle Larson (+450)
Just look at what he’s done at this track with Ganassi (3 straight top 3’s), then see a runner-up in 2021 (263 laps led) and sixth last year (19 laps led) with Hendrick Motorsports on the Monster Mile. He also has 11 top 10’s in his last 13 starts there including 7 of them being in the top five.
William Byron (+900)
He’s finished fourth place in two of his last three Dover starts and has been stout on short tracks this season as well.
Chase Elliott (+900)
He’s scored five Top-5 finishes in his last seven Dover starts including a win last year.
Alex Bowman (+1000)
A Top-3 finish in both races in 2019 to go along with a fifth place run in race 2 of 2020, a win in 2021 and a fifth place run again last year gives him five Top-5 finishes on the Monster Mile in his last six tries there.
The thing is, I also wonder if their two penalties this season take away any advantage that they may have had at Dover and on short tracks this season in general which is why I’m watching HMS so closely this weekend.
Who’s The Best Team To Knock Off HMS?
There’s three more organizations behind Hendrick Motorsports that have a great shot of knocking them off. However, who can realistically do so? It’s Stewart-Haas Racing vs. Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Trackhouse Racing.
SHR is really down to a one-man show of Kevin Harvick. Why not? Seven Top-6 finishes including in his last eight starts for which two of them being wins. He was fourth in both races in 2019, fourth and first respectively in 2020 sixth in 2021 and ninth last year.
Chase Briscoe though has had Xfinity Series success at Dover before and also enters on the heels of three consecutive Top-5 finishes on the season too.
The thing is, Ford has won just twice in the last 21 Dover starts too which gives me some pause.
Joe Gibbs Racing went 4-7-12-21 last year but in all reality, if bad luck doesn’t strike, all four cars would have finished in the top 10. Kyle Busch led 103 laps but pit road in the end kept him out of victory lane. He finished seventh. Martin Truex Jr. was battling with Ross Chastain for third on the final lap but contact sent him down to 12th in the end. He led five laps. Denny Hamlin led 67 laps and had not one, but two issues which is why he was 21st and not in the top five. Christopher Bell had the cleanest of days among this grouping in a fourth place run. What can they do on Sunday?
Trackhouse though may be the safest. Ross Chastain led 86 laps in a third place effort. Daniel Suarez finished 9th and 14th the last two years here too. Suarez has 6 Top-11’s in 10 starts on the Monster Mile in Cup competition. In Xfinity, he had five Top-10’s in seven starts including a win in 2016. In a pair of Truck Series starts, Suarez finished second in both. To say this track is one of his best is an understatement. That’s 18 career national touring divisions starts at Dover with 13 Top-11’s including five of which in the top three.
Did Last Year Do Enough Save Dover?
It was announced in the Fall of 2021 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. In 2021 though, a date was taken away and now the question is, will another one be added for 2023? It obviously has, but will will it be enough to be back in 2024 and longer?
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 2024 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? Or, did last year help entice SMI to keep it around a little longer?
The crowds had drastically dropped over the years as the racing had gotten progressively worse. Last year with the Next Gen, it was progressively better. 17 lead changes and 13 cautions produced a better show. What happens this time around?
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 sweet spot?
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.
Last year, Kyle Busch led 103 laps. His teammate Denny Hamlin led 67. Chase Elliott led 73 laps while Ross Chastain paced the field for 86 circuits himself.
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 11 straight races at Dover to where someone led at least 100 laps.
So, expect someone to keep it going this Sunday.
In 2021, Larson led 263 of 400 laps in a second-place effort. Bowman, led 98 laps and took home the win.
Will New Package Work At Dover?
Last year’s Dover race was vastly better. Now with a new package, does it work this time around? It hasn’t at 2 of the other 3 tracks with the only exception being at Richmond. Phoenix saw just a couple passes for the lead on track while Martinsville saw only three.
Dover is a place to where you have multiple lanes to pass on and with tire wear, I have a feeling an even more lower downforce package may put on a phenomenal show.