Menacing Monster Mile Hosts Tripleheader

I mean, just look at Miles the Monster! Isn’t he intimidating?

If you ask any NASCAR driver, they’ll unequivocally answer yes, as the one-mile concrete oval has chewed up more race cars (and trucks) than your average race track. And on Sunday, the AAA Drive for Autism 400 at Dover International Speedway won’t be any different.  

The 400-lap, 400-mile showdown will take place Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on FS1, with the Xfinity Series race, the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200, taking place on Saturday afternoon. That will begin with two heat races at 2:00 p.m. EST on FS1, and the main event will go green around 3:30. The Truck Series race occurred Friday evening, with Matt Crafton emerging the victor. Rain surrounded the speedway all day, but clear skies prevailed when the green flag flew, and the No. 88 truck found victory lane at Dover for the first time in the two-time champion’s career.

However, let’s focus on the main event here. When you say October, you think of Reggie Jackson. When you say The King (in basketball), you think of LeBron James. And in NASCAR, when you say Dover, you automatically think of six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson has a whopping ten wins at this track, the most at any track among active drivers, with his most recent win coming in this very race one year ago. Bad luck struck the No. 48 in the Chase in 2015, ending their championship hopes. However, that is an outlier in a string of races at Dover that will be unmatched for years to come.

Johnson is the clear-cut favorite heading into the race, and he should be. The four Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch will be up front all afternoon — put it in the bank. However, the No. 18 team will be missing a familiar face.

It was determined by NASCAR that the No. 18’s winning car after Kansas had lug nuts improperly screwed on post-race. As a result, crew chief Adam Stevens was fined $20,000 and suspended for this weekend’s race. The front tire changer, Josh Leslie, was also suspended for this weekend’s race. Both were placed on probation through Dec. 31.

The team opted to not appeal the penalty, meaning they obviously knew they messed up. For the meantime, Todd Berrier will call the shots for Busch atop the pit box this weekend.

As is more than often the case, unfortunately, Mother Nature has been prevalent so far throughout the weekend. Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series qualifying were both cancelled on Friday afternoon, meaning the field will roll off on Sunday based on practice speeds. The fastest? Nope, not Jimmie Johnson, but the guy who always finishes second to him.

Kevin Harvick earned the pole for the race, posting a speed of 165.147 MPH, which would have officially been a new track record if the lap counted in qualifying. Nevertheless, the No. 4’s weekend is off to a great start, as they also have selected pit stall No. 1 (the best stall, as it has the easiest exit off pit road, allowing the driver to accelerate at a greater rate).

“I think (weather) definitely changes the approach,” said Harvick to FS1, who picked up his first and only win at this track last season to keep his championship hopes alive. “That’s what the forecast looked like all week, and we just decided to come in qualifying trim. (Crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and those guys made that decision pretty early to practice that way.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off second, with the aforementioned Busch, Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounding out the top five. Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. (who is looking to rebound from heartbreak last week to win at his home track), Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kenseth will start in positions six through ten. Some other notables include Brad Keselowski in 14th, Johnson in 21st, Joey Logano in 22nd and Tony Stewart in 34th.

Stewart was involved in an incident during the first practice session on Friday morning, when Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick’s No. 10 broke a gear, spilling oil onto the track. The No. 14 of Stewart and No. 1 of Jamie McMurray ran into the oil and suffered damage. This was Stewart’s first accident in a NASCAR car since his return from injury. He walked gingerly to the ambulance, per usual, but is expected to be fine to race on Sunday.

Prediction time: I’m sticking to my guns, as I said in this week’s episode of Victory Lane. It’s stupid to NOT go with a ten-time winner at any track, so I’ll take Jimmie Johnson for the win. Will the Segal jinx happen/continue? The world may never know.

I am at the racetrack this weekend, and will be tweeting/snapchatting/social media-ing lots of cool things. Follow me @DaveyCenter, and @WDBM_Sports as always. Enjoy Dover!