NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR Dover Doubleheader Weekend

What happened?

Denny Hamlin won the Drydene 311 at Dover on Saturday (Aug. 22) and Kevin Harvick won the Drydene 311 at Dover on Sunday (Aug. 23).

Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. were the only drivers to finish in the top five in both races.

How did it happen?

Chase Elliott rocketed to the lead on the initial start on Saturday. Just seven laps into the event, Erik Jones sent Kurt Busch spinning, ending the day for the No. 1.

Oddly enough, that was the only caution flag of the day for an on-track incident. Elliott led through the competition caution at lap 27, and then Austin Dillon led the field for 27 laps after staying out. Hamlin ran him down and won the first stage, and that was just the beginning of his strong day.

Hamlin again won the second stage, and his greatest challengers appeared to be his teammates. Pit cycles gave Truex the lead in the final moments of the race, but Hamlin was just better. He passed his teammate with nine laps to go and Truex never seriously threatened to get the lead back.

It was Hamlin’s sixth win of the season, and he added seven playoff points on the day. His six wins and 37 playoff points both tied Harvick for the most in the series after Saturday.

On Sunday, Harvick broke both of those ties. This time, it was his turn to dominate both stages and win the race.

The day started out with another incident in the first 10 laps, this time with Joey Logano spinning Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Deeper in the field, Elliott ran into the back of Kyle Busch, which ended Elliott’s day and ruined Busch’s chances of winning.

Later, after a caution for debris midway through the first stage, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Kurt Busch stayed out, and the move paid off. Blaney and Bryon finished second and third in the first stage, respectively.

There was one caution in the second stage after an incident between Corey LaJoie and Ty Dillon, but Harvick continued to roll the field. The No. 4 led through much of the final stage as well, until a caution for LaJoie with 21 to go shook things up.

On the ensuing pit stops, Jimmie Johnson took two tires and everyone else took four. Johnson had a solid day but was probably a fifth-to-10th place car. Harvick was overpowering on the restart, and Truex followed by Johnson. Johnson was able to hold off his teammates Bryon and Alex Bowman in fourth and fifth to secure his 18th career top five at Dover.

The win for Harvick was his seventh of the year and clinched the regular season championship (and the added 15 playoff points). He will begin the postseason with the most playoff points of any driver.

Who stood out?

Two races, two more wins for the two best drivers in the sport. Hamlin and Harvick stand out every week and continue to dominate the series. The two combined to lead 338 of 622 laps this weekend, and it honestly felt like more.

Now, Hamlin and Harvick have combined to win 13 of the first 25 races of the season. They have 13 wins, every other driver combined has 12. It’s been pure domination and consistency, week in and week out.

Truex is starting to look like the third wheel behind Hamlin and Harvick. He is just a tick behind and doesn’t quite have the race-winning speed, but he’s been on a tear. He finished second in both races at Dover and had five straight third-place finishes before that.

He’s also thrived with this short track package, which will be used in the championship race at Phoenix. Truex won at Martinsville and finished third at New Hampshire with the same package.

It wasn’t the win he wanted, but Johnson had a productive weekend at Dover. He entered Dover 25 points out of the final playoff spot, and he actually jumped into the final playoff position after Saturday. The weekend ended with Johnson four points out heading into the regular season finale.

Perhaps a better sign for Johnson is just how well the team has been running. Last year at this time, he was floundered out of the playoff picture. This year, he’s on the attack. He now has three straight top 10s and six straight finishes inside the top 12.

No one knows what could happen next weekend at Daytona, but the No. 48 looks like it could find victory lane before Johnson hangs up his firesuit.

Who fell flat?

Once looking like a sure thing to make it, Matt DiBenedetto is now dangerously close to missing the playoffs. He’s finished 15th or worse in three straight races and now just has a nine-point cushion on the bubble. Meanwhile, his biggest competitors – Byron and Johnson – seem to be getting stronger.

Daytona is a crapshoot, and the Penske cars are always fast at superspeedways, but he has to be terrified right now. The team isn’t peaking at the right time, and the Hendrick duo has all the momentum.

Speaking of a team struggling at the wrong time, Jones is limping to the finish line of his Joe Gibbs Racing career. Jones has six straight finishes outside the top 10 and now sits in a must-win situation at Daytona. He won the race last year, and he also claimed victory in this year’s Clash, but superspeedways are so unpredictable.

If Jones misses the playoffs, questions about his future will only grow louder. He’s had a great run with Toyota, and this is definitely not the way he wanted the relationship to end.

The racing surface at Dover failed on Sunday, and it could be time for a repave. The track made repairs in between Saturday and Sunday because they anticipated an issue, even though this hadn’t happened in a Cup race since 2014.

If the expectation is that the track will have a problem, that’s a pretty clear sign you need a new surface. The concrete at Dover is part of what makes the track unique, so they shouldn’t go away from that – it’s just time for a reset.

What did these races prove?

The favorites will continue to be the favorites throughout the rest of the season. Duh. It seems obvious, but it needs to be said. By my count, there’s only one race track that we go to for the rest of the year that Hamlin or Harvick shouldn’t be the favorite at – the Charlotte ROVAL (Elliott will be the favorite there).

Next weekend at Daytona, Hamlin goes for his second straight win at the track. After that, the playoffs begin and the cream will rise to the top. In the season finale at Phoenix, this short track package will be in use, and they’ve clearly proven they can win with it.

Much like Auto Club and New Hampshire, Dover is really going to benefit from only having one race next season. It’s not that Dover is a bad track, it just isn’t always the best. I enjoy how no other track is like it, but I’m excited to see a new track on the schedule next season (Nashville).

Sometimes less is more, and that’ll be the case here. These two races dragged at times as Hamlin and Harvick dominated, so one race will probably be enough.

This race didn’t necessarily prove it, but I’d like to take this spot to give a huge shoutout to NASCAR. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over two months worth of races had to be rescheduled. Now, after 21 races in 15 weeks, the Cup Series schedule is finally caught up.

It took three doubleheaders, five mid-week races (including the All-Star Race) and thousands of miles in travel, but they finally did it. For all the flak NASCAR’s leadership gets, they should be credited with how well they pulled all of this off.

Paint scheme of the weekend

Bubba Wallace’s rise this season has created an influx of new sponsors. On Sunday, it was Columbia PFG making its debut on the No. 43, and the paint scheme was a beauty.

It had the feel of a Bass Pro Shops design, which are typically some of the best in the field. I also enjoyed the green, a color that is largely underutilized on Cup cars for whatever reason.

Better than last year?

Last year, Dover was subjected to a package that wasn’t suited for short tracks. As a result, both races were largely underwhelming for a track that is usually pretty solid. The winner of both races (Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson) dominated the final portion of the races under long green-flag runs.

This year, there was similar domination from Hamlin and Harvick. But due to the passing throughout the field, I’ll say it was improved from last year. For the sake of an exciting finish, it’s unfortunate that Hamlin and Harvick were so good. But that doesn’t mean the racing wasn’t good. It wasn’t the best weekend of racing, but the short track package continues to be a huge improvement over last year.

Playoff picture

This weekend was the last chance for drivers to make up ground on a non-superspeedway track. Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch officially locked themselves into the playoffs on points, meaning there are just three spots available.

Clint Bowyer has a 57-point edge on 16th, meaning if there’s no new winner he is essentially in. If there is a new winner, he has a 48-point lead on 15th. Either way, Bowyer is in the best spot among those not locked in. DiBenedetto, Byron and Johnson are separated by just 13 points, so Daytona could get wild. Everyone else is facing a must-win situation.

What’s next?

Well, this is it. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to a close next Saturday night (Aug. 29) at Daytona. Unlike last week, next week’s race will be on the oval. The Coke Zero Sugar 400, which was traditionally held on the Fourth of July weekend, is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.

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About Logan Reardon

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13 comments

  1. Avatar

    personally i liked the track repair. they dug out that hole and filled it like a cavity.

  2. Avatar

    Great article, Logan! Keep up the good work!

  3. Avatar

    Harvick clinched the POINTS title before the last event. Gotta change the POINTS system.

    • Avatar

      There is no farther way to change the points system without going to a even more radical
      system that is anti clinch proofed.

  4. Avatar

    Both races were OK. I thought Sunday’s was better even had there not been a GWC (not a big fan of those). Tired of seeing Harvick and Hamlin in victory lane but if one of them doesn’t win the championship then whoever does won’t be deserving. I would have rather seen the 400 mile length for at least one of the races just to mix it up. A 311 lap race would be better if there were only one stage break.

    Dover needs a repave and they are losing a race next year. Anyone else see an economic disconnect there?

    Back marker driver most likely to affect the outcome of a race once the playoffs start: Corey Lajoie. Probably a few races.

    NASCAR is getting what they wanted making Daytona the last race. Some fake drama for the final chase spots since whoever does make it probably will be out after round 1.

    • Avatar

      Corey Lajoie wants that 48 ride, so I’m sure he’ll do whatever it takes to get on Mr. H’s good side.

  5. Avatar

    Dumb question: How come 500k at Phoenix is 312 laps and 500k at Dover is 311 laps? They’re both one mile tracks, right?

    • Avatar

      Kevin – yep. must be that new math

    • Avatar

      One kilometer is .621 miles. 500 laps is 310.5 miles rounded off to 311.

      Quick calculations use .625 which is 5/8 which results in 312.5 and they round it off to 312 laps.

      311 laps is actually closer to 500k than 312.

    • Avatar

      Ha ha ha,.
      Well if they can start calling/reclassifying 1 mile tracks as “short tracks”, it seems silly to worry about a 1 kilometer discrepancy. Short answer, NASCAR does whatever it wants regardless of logic.

  6. Avatar

    You mention the races weren’t very exciting, but race one had a battle for the win within the last ten laps. Race fans can’t ask for much more than that.
    Also, green is probably “underutilized” in Cup due to it traditionally considered bad luck to have a green race car. You knew that, right?

  7. Avatar
    Walt from Philly

    How is taking a race away from Dover going to help the track ? I know that the same company owns Nashville. A double header at Pocono, lets get rid of the last of the interdependent tracks!