The Headline(s): Stop me if you’ve heard this before: you just can’t pass.
Sure, Kyle Larson’s 75-race winless streak was snapped. Sure, he led over 150 laps, and another led over half the race. But once again, the prevailing sentiment from drivers leaving the Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway was the lack of ability to pass.
We’ve been hearing that ad nauseam all season long, but the proof is in the pudding. The more downforce, the more control these drivers are in. Only one caution flew during the 400-lap affair, coming on lap 7 for debris.
Other than that, the two stage breaks at laps 120 and 240 were the only other yellow flags. There was some gamesmanship that went on during green flag pit cycles but only a couple passes for the lead on the race track under green.
Most of the action happened early, as Joey Logano was forced behind the wall before the green flag dropped with an axle issue and Chase Elliott’s motor expired, as did Ryan Blaney’s in the final stage.
How It Happened
Denny Hamlin earned the pole in his 500th career start and didn’t relinquish the lead for the majority of the first two stages, leading 218 laps in total. But once his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. got by for the top spot, Hamlin’s car was never the same.
Larson wound up winning the race off pit road as Truex’s team had a hiccup on the left rear and didn’t let anybody get even close, sailing out to a 5+ second lead at some points in the final green flag runs.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Larson was able to hold on to the lead in spite of some hard racing on the part of drivers going a lap down. Clint Bowyer, in particular, raced Larson so hard that, at one point, he personally cut multiple seconds off his lead of Truex.
Truex was able to walk away from the Monster Mile with a second-place finish and a stage win. But that stage win probably doesn’t come without some ridiculous racing on the part of Logano. Logano, 23 laps down at the time, raced leader Hamlin so hard that he caused one of just two non-pit cycle induced lead changes of the day.
Bowman was able to make some late-race passes following the final green-flag pit cycle, passing Hamlin and Harvick to finish third. Bowman’s scorecard at Dover this year ended up being second and third; not too shabby for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
The No. 4 “Harvick Beer” sponsored Ford had a pretty good day. Harvick placed fifth in stage one and fourth in stage two. Harvick hovered around third and sixth throughout almost the entirety of the race and ended up fourth.
Hamlin won the pole on Saturday and led 218 of the first 228 laps. But after Truex got around him to win the second stage, the only peep heard from the No. 11 team was some possible engine troubles midway through the final stage. The car, however, stayed on the track and finished fifth.
A terrible weekend for Kyle Busch, at least by his standards, ended with him recovering from a speeding penalty during the first stage caution period to finish sixth.
The hot streak continues for Matt DiBenedetto. The Californian finished seventh, his seventh top-10 finish of the year. That makes it just one finish outside of the top 20 since finishing 27th at Chicagoland Speedway in late June.
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Team Penske had a terrible day at Dover. In addition to Logano and Blaney’s mechanical woes, Brad Keselowski struggled late in the race, going a lap down and finishing 11th.
William Byron finished fourth in stage one but faced a costly speeding penalty during his green-flag pit stop in stage two. He ended up trapped a lap down in a race for most of the rest of the race. Byron went another lap down in the closing laps to finish 13th, two laps down. That doesn’t sound that terrible, but keep in mind that eight playoff drivers finished ahead of him, which was not the desired result for a driver with so few playoff points.
Out-of-sight, out-of-mind: Aric Almirola finished 17th and Ryan Newman finished 22nd. A week after both battled very aggressively to advance to this round of the playoffs only to come so short, both had nothing races and finished multiple laps down.
Chris Buescher had an engine failure near the end of the second stage. Logano might have been one of the few people to notice: the 2018 champion gained another point in the race by passing the future Roush Fenway driver in the running order.
Insights, Opinions, and Fake News
The top six finishers were playoff contenders, but the others were scattered. Bowyer and Keselowski finished 10th and 11th, with Byron rebounding from a speeding penalty to finish 13th. Logano, Blaney and Elliott’s issues mired them back in the finishing order.
Only eight cars finished on the lead lap, with three cars finishing one lap down and seven two laps down.
Give a call to Dibenedetto, party people. How about that man?
DiBenedetto was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in seventh, with Dover mastering “Monster Slayer” Jimmie Johnson in eighth and Larson’s teammate Kurt Busch in ninth.
It was looking to be a solid day for Erik Jones, but a speeding penalty ruined his day and he wound up finishing in 15th.
What’s up with Almirola? 12 straight finishes outside the top 10 for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver who failed to qualify for the Round of 12, a far cry from his Round of 8 berth only one year ago.
Best Paint Scheme: Chase Elliott, at least for the eight laps it was out on the racetrack.
— Restaurant News (@RestaurantNews1) September 10, 2019
Strangest Title Sponsorship Award: I don’t know what gets this one, the Drive Sober 200 (with the tagline of “Use Your Melon”) or the Drydene 400. Apparently Drydene specializes in “engine lubricants and greases.” Interesting.
Best Trophy of the Year: The Gold Miles the Monster trophy for winning the 100th Cup race in the history of Dover looked pretty cool, to say the least. Most of the fathers who win at Dover say they put Miles in their child’s bedroom, so Owen Larson might end up being the happiest kid in the garage.
50 years of history for the @MonsterMile.
As Dover celebrates 100 Cup races, a golden Miles the Monster is holding Richard Petty's car, which won the first race at the track in 1969. pic.twitter.com/9DquavSIH5
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 5, 2019
Where it Rated: Darrell Waltrip tweeted during the race about Dover being like racing in a bowl. With the clean air troubles and maybe just three-or-four interesting developments that came out of this entire weekend, it was more like a toilet bowl in all honesty.
What’s the Points? Entering Talladega Superspeedway next week, Larson is the lone driver locked into the next round of the playoffs. Truex is the points leader and has a 63 point advantage on the final transfer spot. Hamlin and Kyle Busch are both 48 points to the good, while Harvick is 42 points ahead. Keselowski (+20) and Bowman (+17) are the final two drivers with any kind of a cushion.
Logano and Byron are tied for the final playoff spot, and Bowyer is four points behind them. Thanks to playoff points, Elliott is only seven points behind in spite of finishing last, and Blaney is last in the playoff point standings, sitting 22 points behind Logano and Byron.
Up Next: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the second race of the Round of 12. Almirola is the defending winner of the event, the 1000Bulbs.com 500 that can be seen on Sunday, Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
Davey Segal contributed to this report.