Hendrick Motorsports was able to achieve something that only Roush Fenway Racing had achieved in 60 years of NASCAR Cup racing: field the first four finishers in a race.
Some fans, however, may remember another team in recent years almost marking the same accomplishment.
In September 2019, Joe Gibbs Racing entered Richmond Raceway having won five of the last seven Cup races there. Martin Truex Jr. was able to turn that mark into six of the last eight, and initially all three of his teammates finished behind him in the top four.
Erik Jones, then the driver of the No. 20 Toyota, was disqualified in post-race inspection. While a JGR podium sweep was still a big accomplishment, Jones was the most vulnerable driver of the four in the first round of the playoffs, and that DQ took a huge bite out of his chances to advance. The next race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Jones finished last after an early crash and was eliminated in the worst playoff bid in NASCAR history; Jones only scored a total of four points in his three-race round.
Anyway, here are some more numbers besides four that were relevant after Sunday’s race.
That’s both the number of regular season races completed so far this season and the number of regular season races remaining this season. In football terms, this would be halftime. In racing terms, it’s more the calm before a long, grueling summer.
Kyle Larson has led 771 laps this season, tops among all Cup drivers. Larson has led over 100 laps in four races this season, but has only been able to win one of them.
The number of green flag lead changes besides restarts in Sunday’s race. That one lead change came early, when William Byron got around Truex on lap 16. Truex, who was a big favorite entering the weekend as the polesitter and former multi-time winner at Dover International Speedway, struggled all day with a bad nose on his race car and ended up finishing 19th.
Michael McDowell’s position in points. While nobody was expecting the Daytona 500 champion to go into witness protection, it was expected that a 14-year Cup veteran with a best points finish of 23rd would fade away, but that has not been the case. If Chase Elliott had ended up winning the Daytona 500 this year and McDowell finished second, McDowell would be 16th in points and still hanging on to a playoff berth. And with the back half of the regular season loaded up with road course racing, the former road racer may well even improve on his standing by the time September comes around.
Aric Almirola’s average finish in 2021 after a hard wreck on Sunday relegated him to a last-place finish. Almirola, who hasn’t been able to buy luck, is 29th in points and is a whopping 31 points back from his teammate, rookie Chase Briscoe, in 28th. A driver who has gotten into the playoffs by both points and by a surprise win, Almirola’s last hope is going to be getting a win over the next few months.
Both Richard Childress Racing drivers are in playoff berths halfway through the regular season. While Tyler Reddick has been the flashier of the two, having finished a close second at Homestead Miami Speedway, the more impressive one has been Austin Dillon, who is 11th in points and has built up a 60-point cushion above the cut line. While brother Ty has been struggling just to get to the racetrack this year, Austin is well on his way to setting numerous career highs this season.
There are no lights at Dover, and having gone to college just an hour south (go Salisbury Seagulls!), the weather in the Delmarva area can be quite unpredictable in the late spring and early fall. Still, in spite of all of this, in the 103 Cup races at Dover, all of them have been raced in full. That’s not all, either; outside of the 2012 Truck Series race ending 53 laps short of the finish, no other major race at Dover has ever been called early. Postponed to the next day, of course, but besides that truck race, there has always been a checkered flag at Dover.