Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 DuraMAX Drydene 400 at Dover

What happened?

Chase Elliott conquered the Monster Mile at Dover Motor Speedway after passing Ross Chastain for the lead after the race’s final restart. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Chastain as well, finishing second with the Melon Man behind him in third. Fourth and fifth were Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman, respectively.

This victory marks Elliott’s first Cup Series win on an oval since his championship-winning triumph at Phoenix Raceway in November 2020.

How did it happen?

At the beginning of the final stage, it appeared as though a race that had been slowed by caution after caution, delay after delay, for most of the day would finally see itself run under green flag condition long enough for the green flag pit stops to occur.

And indeed, for a very select few, they did. One of which was Kaulig Racing driver AJ Allmendinger, who had been running respectably and was as high as second at one point.

Yet when the sports car racing veteran exited pit road, one of his wheels became detached from his Chevrolet. As the No. 16 limped back to pit road under the power of three wheels, the caution flag waved again.

It just so happened that race leaders Kyle Busch and Bowman were on pit lane at the same time. To make matters worse, they had already gone a lap down under the green flag pitting cycle. It meant that even though the duo could use the wave around to get themselves back on the lead lap, they would have to start at the rear of the field as a result, losing all of their track position.

Everyone that had stayed out at that point would be able to stay on the lead lap. That’s where the likes of Elliott and Chastain come in.

Chastain, who had led 71 laps at that point, would win the following race off pit road. Elliott would follow in second.

On the following restart on lap 331 out of 400, everyone watched the two as they shifted through the sequential gears on the all-banked concrete mile circuit whilst door-to-door. Elliott had a better restart than most while on the bottom lane. Chastain had chosen the more sought-after outside lane and flanked the outside of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as they entered turn 1.

After four laps, the two were still side-by-side, with one almost clearing the other nearly every corner before being reeled back. Then the caution flew again.

On the following restart, Elliott made an even better effort. In fact, it wasn’t just good, it was enough.

Elliott cleared Chastain, and despite having over 50 laps left to run until the checkered flag, the HMS driver weaved through lap traffic and kept his lead long enough to earn his first win of 2022.

It’s only the third time this season that there has not been a lead change in the last 10 laps of a race.

Who stood out?

After downsizing to a one car team at the beginning of the year and rumors buzzing about what the future of the organization will look like post-2022, JTG Daugherty Racing needed a good result.

A win would’ve been great, but a second-place finish is pretty nice too, and on Monday at Dover, team driver Stenhouse delivered.

At the end of the day, Stenhouse and the No. 47 crew’s efforts certainly did not go unnoticed. Their second-place result is their best Cup Series finish since finishing second at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race in 2021 — more than a year ago. It also marks the team’s first top-five finish of 2022. But what makes the feel-good underdog story of the Brad Daugherty-owned race team is not the fact that they finished second, it’s that they ran second.

No, it wasn’t some wily pit stop strategy conjured by longtime NASCAR crew chief veteran Brian Pattie in the closing laps of the race, nor was it the race’s attrition that catapulted the often 20th-place team into the top five.

Stenhouse and the No. 47 team were just fast. End of story.

They didn’t lead any laps, but Stenhouse was running fifth at the end of stage two, giving the team much needed stage points and even more needed hope about its future in the sport.

In the final 50 laps, as Stenhouse ran second to leader Elliott, there was a point when the JTG car was actually catching the No. 9 Chevrolet. Albeit, not by much, but regardless of how one looks at the team’s performance on Monday, it was clear they had enough speed to run against the giants of HMS and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Will it carry into next week at Darlington Raceway? Probably not, but even periodically running well is better than never.

Who fell flat?

When Denny Hamlin won stage one early during Monday’s event at Dover, he and the No. 11 JGR team had something to be proud of. It was clear they had one of the cars to beat at the event and were maybe on the verge of winning a second race in 2022.

When Hamlin left his pit box under caution on lap 124, he had four new and fresh sticker tires were attached to his No. 11 Toyota and no competition for the race off pit road.

But as he crossed the pit exit line, he found another competitor racing alongside him — his own left front wheel.

The crew, while dejected, serviced the No. 11 when Hamlin returned to pit road. The team had lost the lead and had to restart in the back of the pack.

Thankfully for them, however, Hamlin still had a fast car, and was actually racing his way back into contention. By the midway point, Hamlin was back inside of the top 20 and gaining.

Then it went from bad to worse. The No. 11 Toyota was back on pace when lap car Cody Ware spun in front of the unsuspecting Virginian on lap 243. Hamlin veered a sharp left, attempting to drive past the downward-drifting No. 51 before he collided with it.

It was in vain.

The final nail in the purple-and-white coffin was a speeding penalty on lap 326. By that point, Hamlin was well out of contention.

Despite an excellent beginning to the day with a stage win, and leading 67 laps throughout, the team finished 21st, one lap down.

What did this race prove?

Enough is enough.

It’s time to make races have earlier start times — at least at tracks without lights.

Imagine you and your family or friends have bought tickets to a NASCAR Cup Series race at a track away from you months in advance. You book hotels, transportation, and buy food. Oh, and don’t forget about the actual ticket price and merchandise too. After months, the weekend arrives.

But when you arrive at the track, you notice the gray skies and the radar is not looking good. They start the race but it’s stopped short 78 laps in. Even worse, it’s postponed until Monday. You can’t stick around. You have work on Monday. All of those costs were for nothing but 78 laps of green flag racing.

How many fans went through this scenario at Dover this weekend?

It’s an argument that has been the discourse of the NASCAR world for a few years now. Every time a race is postponed in any of the top three NASCAR series, the topic comes back again — streaming and screaming across the Twitter and social media dashboards of thousands, maybe millions of fans. Why? Because it is an issue that can be easily resolved.

Or at least it is on paper.

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. There is a legitimate reason why NASCAR chooses to have most race start times at 3 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. like the old days.

It’s because that’s what the networks want. Now I should remind you that network television is the reason why you and millions of fans around the world are able to watch NASCAR racing in the first place without spending the monetary equivalent of bodily limbs on plane tickets and hotels. In other words, what networks say, goes.

But maybe you already knew that.

What you may not have known is why networks are choosing later start times in the first place.

It’s about a game of risk versus reward.

A late starting time garners more viewers. That’s what data has proven year over year. Fans and possible race fans are more likely to tune into a race that begins at 3 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. However, this also means running a higher risk of having rain delay the event, which, of course, ruins any kind of possible viewership gain.

According to reporter Jeff Gluck, NASCAR officials have said they’re willing to lose two races a year for rain. Well, two were run on Monday last year with another being stopped short because of rain. Does that mean last year was a loss? We’ve already lost one in 2022. We almost lost another one at Bristol, and we’re not even a third of the way into the season.

Should we be catering to people that might watch a race now and then? Or should we focus on a loyal fan that will watch no matter what and also those that have actually purchased the tickets and made the effort to attend a race? At what point do we realize that focusing on that core fanbase is more worth it than trying to capture a couple 100,000 extra fans in viewership?

Or, you know, we could also just add lights to some tracks.

Paint scheme of the race

Talk about making diamonds out of … well, you know.

William Byron’s weekend began with a bang. Literally.

In the opening laps of the weekend’s practice session, Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet made hard contact with the wall. The crash caused irreparable damage to the Axalta Raptor-sponsored car.

Even worse, because of the Next Gen car parts shortage, Byron’s crew had no choice but to unearth the team backup car — a blank white Frankenstein’s monster of other team’s parts, colors, and even name plates.

The team had to make do. So, they put together their Raptor side wraps and placed them on the white car, leaving the hood, roof, and nose with a base white color.

It was an improvement.

If you want to argue that it wasn’t the best-looking car on the grid, that’s valid. However, it leaves something to be said about how quickly these teams can adapt when faced with the adversity of a parts shortage.

Usually, when a team moves to a backup car because of a crash in practice or qualifying, it’s the exact same paint scheme with wraps and everything, but with multiple teams having to share a backup car nowadays, it doesn’t always end that way, and sometimes race teams have to make with what they’ve got.

OK, that and it looked way better than before too. Rudy Fugle and the No. 24 team knew exactly how to make a uninspired black and greyish Raptor car into a bright one. Clever girl.

Better than last time?

Going into the weekend, it was no secret that Dover Motor Speedway was in need of a great race to help the Monster Mile survive in the evolving NASCAR schedule.

Dover had lost one of its race dates and has been reduced to a one race schedule on the Cup Series calendar. Even worse, with fans still clamoring for more short tracks, some venues were bound to be set on the chopping block.

Dover was seemingly one of those tracks.

Thankfully, NASCAR’s Next Gen car has been improving the racing product almost everywhere it goes.

It was a similar situation to Auto Club Speedway, which up until this year’s Cup race, was to be torn down and reconfigured into a short track after not performing competitively for years, but when the series visited in March of this year, the new car performed with flying colors and provided excellent racing throughout the event. So did Dover follow suit?

Yes. But maybe not good enough.

The Next Gen car proves to perform well at NASCAR’s variety of racetracks, and Dover is no exception.

With 10 leaders and 17 lead changes, it’s a vast competitive improvement over the five leaders for 11 lead changes in 2021. Even more so, there were only three incident-caused cautions in 2021 at the concrete oval. In 2022, there were eight, proving this car is indeed hard to drive at Dover — much like anywhere else we’ve visited with it.

But the leader still seems hard to pass, and track position also seemed to be the rule of law throughout the day. There was plenty of tire wear, but not to the point where drivers couldn’t possibly take two tires and not keep their position. It wasn’t like Richmond Raceway where Hamlin pitted with less than 50 laps to go, unlapped himself, and took back the lead all under green flag conditions.

Dover is probably not going anywhere. Monday’s race provided entertainment, but not enough that it will see the return of its second date.

What’s next?

Throwback weekend at the Lady in Black.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Darlington Raceway for the series annual Throwback Weekend, when the stars of stock car racing pay homage to the decades of racing by honoring the iconic paint schemes of NASCAR’s history. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, May 7 at 10:30 a.m. ET, while the Goodyear 400 will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 on Sunday, May 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and wrote for IMSA in 2020 after graduating with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

The race was better than the last several mainly because there were some cautions that mixed things up a bit. Tire wear also created some drama as did mistakes made on pit road and self-inflicted mishaps. So yeah the race was decent.

I am happy Elliott won if for no other reason I won’t have to read anymore articles like; “What’s Wrong With Chase”, “Is Elliott The Fourth Driver At HMS”, “Has Elliott Lost His Mojo”, etc, etc, etc, all when he’s first in the standings.

I went to the race for the first time in 7 years. I am not sure if people watching on TV and not familiar with the track noticed, but they have removed the entire upper deck of the stands (as well as several sections on the ends). Between that and the fact that there is only one race this year, the stands were fuller than they have in the last 10 years.

Of course those that showed up were then treated to a race that didn’t start until after 3 and then rained out before the hour was up. That sure leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth when, had the race started at 1, it would have been damn near over by the time the rain came. Given the network’s stance on starting times (as explained above) it kind of makes me hope that several races get rained out this year just to burn them. I hate anyone that ignores common sense because they are greedy. I want them to pay for their pigheaded greed.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill B
Kurt Smith

On principle I refuse to watch anything on Fox after the race. I immediately change the channel precisely because they force me to watch races while I’m having Sunday dinner with my family.

Mack

In 2013 I took my girlfriend to the fall race so she could experience a race other than Pocono. I was hoping I a good race would spark her interest and I am fortunate to have a friend that can get hot passes to any race I want to go to as he supply’s lower budget teams with transmissions.
Before the race started we looked up at all of the empty seats and she asked where everyone was. I explained to her the politics of the sport has begun to take over and less people were going to the races because of this reason and the costs. Once the race began, I looked up and every seat in the turns were completely empty and the only area that was crowded was the start/finish line. It was a sad site to see especially when I went there in the 90’s and you could barely get a seat at the time.
The race we went to literally had no action. It was quickly follow the leader 4 seconds ahead and very little side be side racing. Halfway through the race I was even board with the racing. The only exciting thing was being in the pits and watching the stops right in front of us. There were only a few cautions and 2 of those were the mystery debris ones.
After the race was over we checked out victory lane for a little bit and then we got on the road. I expected it would take us 5 hours to get home with typical race traffic however we were home in less than 3 hours and you would have never known a race went on.
We had a great time but it was mainly due to the fact we had hot passes. Out of all the races I went to over the years, that is the one that I still can’t remember who won unless I look it up. It was that day that I physically realized that Dover was completely neutered.
This past weekends race was better than all that I can remember in a long time however I attribute that to the new car, tires and wheels but I have a feeling when they go back next time it is going to go back to the same ole thing. I am hoping I am wrong with that however I think the years maybe numbered for a more attractive racetrack.

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