We’ve got two races down in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff format and at the conclusion of Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway we’ll see four of the 16 Chase drivers eliminated.
Two drivers, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, have qualified automatically for next round of three races by virtue of winning the last two weeks at Chicago and New Hampshire.
The four drivers sitting 12 through 16 in the Chase standings that are in danger of being eliminated from championship contention are the four most experts believed would be on the chopping block first. Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray are 5 points behind 12th-place Kyle Larson. Tony Stewart is 6 points behind and Chris Buescher, the Cinderella of the bunch, is 25 points back.
In the May 15 race at Dover, Buescher had the best finish among the four with 18th place. McMurray was 21st, Dillon 33rd followed by Stewart in 34th. This will be Stewart’s last visit to Dover, a place he has won three times at over his career, the last in 2013, his last victory before winning at Sonoma in June.
Because Dover’s one-mile, high-banked concrete oval is so unique and there is only one race of data to apply, to handicap every angle possible I like to refer to races run at Bristol, which is a half-mile shorter, but is high-banked and concrete.
I got the idea about a decade ago when I started seeing crew chiefs refer to it when discussing Dover and sometimes bring the exact same chassis to each track. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me, and there have been some strong correlations with results over the years.
It was just over a month ago the series was at Bristol. Harvick would win the race, but some of the top finishers were surprises, such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishing second, Dillon fourth with Buescher in fifth and McMurray in eighth. That’s a wild group no one could have possibly predicted, but it gives reason to believe Larson might not be so safe with his five-point lead.
However, Larson has a 6.2 average finish in five Dover starts, including runner-up behind Matt Kenseth in May where he led 85 laps. Harvick, who won this race last year – his first ever at Dover, finished 15th but led a race-high 117 laps. The May race featured 19 lead changes among 10 drivers and had 12 cautions, which kept things competitive with lots of restarts.
Jimmie Johnson has gone two races without winning at Dover, and that’s big news because his longest winless stretch in the last 15 races there has been two races. He has a track-record 10 wins and 3,003 laps led in 29 starts.
The reason to like him this week, despite not winning since Week 5 at Fontana, is because No. 48 showed lots of speed at Chicago’s 1.5-mile layout, which can be somewhat applied to this race because it’s so recent.
Look out for Martin Truex Jr. as well. He captured his first career win at Dover in 2007, a place the New Jersey native calls his home track. He’s already qualified for the next round so he can just race with the purpose of winning to pad his starts. He leads the series with 1,407 laps led. One more win and he’ll tie Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch with four for the series lead.
And last of all for the state of Delaware, which allows parlay wagers on sports, but not straight bets: They should start letting the people attending the race bet the NASCAR races that visit there twice a season.
The track is part of the hotel and casino there – you can watch the race from your room – where they also have a beautiful sportsbook that William Hill U.S. manages for the state.
Someday the silly loop hole against it happening will be closed.