The Monster Mile presents a ‘demanding’ challenge

DOVER, DELAWARE - MAY 02: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger/The Frozen Farmer Chevrolet, Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Justin Haley, driver of the #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series DuraMAX Drydene 400 presented by RelaDyne at Dover Motor Speedway on May 02, 2022 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR returns to a short track this weekend, but the one-miler in Dover, Delaware is unique. Sunday’s Würth 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is at the concrete track with 24-degree banked turns that always poses a physical challenge.

“It can be tough,” Chase Briscoe described the track. “It all starts with qualifying and getting that position up front to start with. You need track position, you need a fast car and you need a driver who is going to be on it. You have to drive hard every lap, so it’s very physically demanding and is definitely not a place where you can just ride around and come out with a good finish.”

“If you come out of Dover with a win, you truly have earned it,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola echoed those sentiments about track position. Passing has become increasingly difficult with the Next Gen car, Almirola acknowledged.

“It has become very track-position dependent,” he said. “The teams are getting so good at making racecars handle and making speed and, with this new racecar, we’re all so close and the margin of error is so thin. The fact that we all run a tenth or two of each other just makes it naturally hard to pass.”

However, he expects good things for Stewart-Haas Racing at the one-mile track, pointing to the team’s strong run at Martinsville, where “all of our cars qualified in the top 10 spots and ran up front all day. At any point, it looked like one of our cars was capable of winning the race.”

With that in mind, Almirola says he’s “really happy and really encouraged with what we have going on with our short-track program.”

Dover is a track that promises parity, though. In the last ten races, only Chase Elliott has won more than one time. Along with Elliott, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr, and Alex Bowman are all active winners.

Elliott is back in the car after recovering from a broken leg sustained in a snowboarding accident, and sports the second-best average finish at Dover to just Kyle Larson. However, it’s his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman who’s now out. Bowman broke his vertebrae in a sprint car crash, and Josh Berry will return as a substitute alongside his Xfinity Series duties for the next few races.

Hometown driver Martin Truex, from New Jersey, also has a competitive average Dover finish. However, he’s desperately hoping to convert that into a long-awaited win. He last won a race in Richmond in 2021, and he ended up outside the Playoffs last year after missing out on the one points slot.

Despite a 27th-place run at Talladega, though, Truex points to a top-five at Martinsville and a top-ten at Bristol dirt as a sign of things to come.

“You kind of have to throw away Talladega, but I feel like we are gaining momentum coming off good runs at Bristol on the dirt and at Martinsville” he said. “Like anything, it’s always about execution. There are so many things that go on in these races that can go the wrong way for you, we just got to keep focused and good things will come.”

Corey Lajoie is one driver on the upswing who’s looking for success. He’s already scored a top five and a top ten this year, which, in Spire Motorsports equipment, is an impressive run. And he’s had some good runs at Dover too. Lajoie finished 18th in last year’s Dover race, his best finish to date at the track.

“Man, I love Dover,” Lajoie said. As for that 18th-place finish, he said that “Daniel Suarez kind of wrecked us last year with like 15 to go. We would’ve finished probably 12th. So I’ll just try to stay away from Daniel Suarez at the end of the race, hopeful like I’m being in front of him.”

“And, you know, I think Dover’s one of my favorite racetracks, so hopefully we can bring good hot rod and, and find our way towards the top 10 there at the end of it. And we’ll see what we’ve got,” he said.

As for Suarez himself, he expects to run up front. Though he’s finished in an average position of 21.7 in the last six races, since Phoenix, he points out that Dover is “one of my best tracks, statistically. My expectations are really high for this weekend because I have run so well in the past there.”

“I think we will start getting the type of finishes we expect and deserve here soon,” Suarez added.

Practice for the Würth 400 is Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on FS2 with Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 11 a.m. on FS1.

Xfinity Series drivers continue the hundred-thousand-dollar hunt

The NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Dover Motor Speedway for Saturday’s A-GAME 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a tightly bunched group of drivers atop the standings.

Austin Hill’s three victories early in the season has given the Richard Childress Racing driver a slim four-point edge over two-race winner John Hunter Nemechek. Kaulig Racing rookie Chandler Smith, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst, and defending race winner, JR Motorsports’ Josh Berry are currently the top-five drivers in the title run.

Three competitors – Berry, his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer – have hoisted Dover trophies before. The two-time winner Allgaier is the only multiple-winner in this week’s field and his 12 top-10s ties him with Kyle Busch for most all-time. The veteran nearly collected a third trophy the last time the series visited the track – his No. 7 JRM Chevrolet leading a race high 67 of the 200 laps and finishing a slight .604-seconds behind his teammate Berry.

Custer also possesses a strong resume at Dover with top-10 finishes in five of his six Xfinity Series starts at the track. He has a pair of top-10s in four NASCAR Cup Series starts as well.

Plus, Custer has extra incentive this weekend having collected last week’s $100,000 Dash 4 Cash prize at Talladega Superspeedway and hoping to make it two-in-a-row. Saturday marks the final installment of the Dash 4 Cash incentive program from Xfinity with another $100,000 check ready to be paid to the top finisher among Custer, last week’s race winner Jordan Anderson Racing’s Jeb Burton, Richard Childress Racing’s Sheldon Creed and Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman.

Custer, who won the Dash 4 Cash last week, said it’s been big benefit for his team.

“Winning $100,000 is a huge deal for our No. 00 Haas Automation Ford team,” Custer said. “It’s probably one of the coolest things that Xfinity does in the sport, I think, doing this Dash 4 Cash program.”

“People are going to race hard for it,” he added. “You know exactly where those three other guys are and how you’re going to race them throughout the day. It means a lot to qualify for the second week in a row, and hopefully we can be the ones to come out on top again. Dover’s been a good track for us, and we plan to pounce on that.”

They all bring strong cases to the contest this week after last Saturday’s dramatic Talladega race, where Burton earned his second career victory and Creed finished runner-up. Not only is this Custer’s return to Xfinity Series competition at Dover, but it will mark the first Dover Xfinity race for Kligerman since 2013. He does have a top-10 in three previous series starts.

After winning three of the first five races, the Richard Childress Racing driver Hill has only one top-10 (ninth place at Richmond) in the four races since. His closest challenger in the championship – Nemechek – the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has three top-10s in six previous Dover starts but has finished 32nd and 37th in his last two races there.

Practice for Saturday’s race is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. on Friday afternoon followed immediately by qualifying at 3:35 p.m., broadcast on FS1.

DOVER, DELAWARE – APRIL 30: JJ Yeley, driver of the #66 CW & Sons Infrastructure Toyota, Chandler Smith, driver of the #26 ChargeMe/VITAL Toyota, Kaz Grala, driver of the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet, and Myatt Snider, driver of the #31 Media Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series A-GAME 200 at Dover Motor Speedway on April 30, 2022 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Würth 400
The Place: Dover Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, April 30
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,629,649
TV: FS1, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 120),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 250), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: A-GAME 200
The Place: Dover Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, April 29
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,361,382
TV: FS1, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

Owen Johnson