NASCAR Sprint Cup at Dover Preview: Seven things to know

Image courtesy of @FR78Racing.

Two straight weeks of racing in the Old North State is over. The Sprint Cup series now heads to Dover, Delaware for short-track racing on one of the most unique courses in the sport—the Monster Mile.

Leading off the FedEx 400 will be Denny Hamlin, who, ironically enough, is driving the FedEx Cares No. 11 Toyota. The $1 million man has already won this year at a short track in his home state of Richmond. Can he pull off another or will a different driver take “Miles the Monster” on a course close to home?

Before that’s all settled, here’s what you need to know about Sunday’s race in Dover.

 

1. Watch/Hear/Stream/Wager

When: Sunday, May 31, 2015, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Dover International Speedway

TV: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Spread (via Sportsbook.ag): Kevin Harvick 4-1; Jimmie Johnson 9-2; Brad Keselowski 8-1; Kurt Busch 8-1; Denny Hamlin 10-1; Joey Logano 10-1; Martin Truex Jr. 10-1

2. Gibbs Goliath

It took a while, but one team finally has three drivers confirmed in the Chase. No, it’s not Hendrick. Stewart-Haas Racing only has two. Despite all of the Chevrolet domination this season, it was Joe Gibbs’ Toyota program that now has three drivers with berths into NASCAR’s postseason.

After frustration was mounting about the intermediate results, Gibbs finally saw his team flourish in Charlotte.

“[Our intermediate program] has really been a disappointment for us for quite a while,” Gibbs said after the Coca-Cola 600. “We’ve worked extremely hard. It shows you how hard our sport is because we’ve had a hard time catching up. I’m not saying we’ve caught up, but for the last two races here it’s a big deal for us for all those reasons.”

With Hamlin earning the third straight pole for JGR—second in a points race—can the team secure yet another win? The No. 11 machine already drove to Victory Lane earlier this season at Richmond, so another short track triumph seems like a distinct possibility.

3. Johnson Reaching Rarefied Air?

Image courtesy of @NASCAR.

Image courtesy of @NASCAR.

At this point, what is there that Jimmie Johnson hasn’t accomplished? He has six championships and needs just one to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in history. He’s already at 73 wins and can pass Dale Earnhardt for seventh all time this year or next season.

One thing he hasn’t done—win 10 races at a single track. Sunday at Dover, he’ll go for double digits for the second time. By the end of his career, Johnson will likely set several marks. But with a 10th win at Dover, he’d join just Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson as the only drivers to accomplish that feat at any track.

His nine wins are already a track record, passing Petty and Bobby Allison—who had seven—along with Jeff Gordon, who’s at five victories. No driver has conquered the Monster Mile quite the way JJ has over his career.  Look for him to try to best his mark again on Sunday.

4. Close but No Cigar

Watching Martin Truex Jr. this season, NASCAR fans just know a win is coming. The only question is when will he finally break through?

He’s come close in the last two races by leading the most laps. Unfortunately, late strategy in both of those races ended any chance of winning with Johnson and Carl Edwards eventually stealing away the checkered flag.

Close to his home in Mayetta, New Jersey, the Furniture Row Racing driver will be comfortable all weekend as Sunday approaches. Starting out on the front row alongside Hamlin, Truex might be popping up in another section later in this story.

5. Rowdy Resurgence

Image courtesy of @JoeGibbsRacing.

Image courtesy of @JoeGibbsRacing.

Did anyone ever doubt him? In his first points race back—a 600 miler, no less—Kyle Busch drove all the way up to second at one point. Needing a strong start to have any chance at making his way to the Chase, the younger Busch brother got just that by finishing 11th in the Coke 600.

During the race, Rowdy told his team, “Tell Erik [Jones] I feel good. I feel really good.” His crew chief Adam Stevens then responded, “10-4. His bedtime’s in about 25 minutes anyhow.” If Busch remains this healthy the rest of the year, expect him to steal a Chase spot by the end of the regular season.

6. Favorite

Image courtesy of @NASCARONFOX.

Image courtesy of @NASCARONFOX.

A fan favorite all season, Truex can finally earn that title in Dover. After tallying a ridiculous 226 laps led in Kansas and Charlotte, no driver was able to catch him in either race—until he had to make a late stop. With that type of speed, he’ll see if he can maintain that consistency again.

In the same car that he nearly drove to Victory Lane in the last two points races, Truex will look to finally get the job done on Sunday. On a short track where he won his first race and likely won’t run into a fuel mileage situation, this setup will finally earn him a checkered flag and a Chase berth.

7. Underdog

No one is sure what exactly has happened to Kyle Larson this season. The 2014 Rookie of the Year has looked like a shell of himself to start the season. Larson does have three top-10 finishes, but has also missed the top 20 an astounding six times in just 11 starts.

Luckily, he’s heading to the Monster Mile. Most drivers don’t look forward to the concrete jungle, but Larson actually posted an average result of 8.5 in Dover last season. Now that he has even more experience under his belt, Larson hopes to secure his first top-five finish of 2015 at a track he tamed last season.

 

Follow Chicken Bone Alley on Twitter.

 

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