NASCAR heads to Dover

Following the “10 Days of Thunder” from Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR heads North to Dover, Delaware and Dover International Speedway for the AAA Drive for Autism 400. Now that the 2017 season is one-third over, it’s close to “now or never” for some of the sport’s biggest names. They’ll try to tame the Monster Mile in Dover this weekend to do so.

WHAT: Drive for Autism 400 (400 miles, 400 laps (stages of 120, 120 and 260 laps, respectively)

WHEN: Sunday, June 4, 2017. Green flag scheduled at approximately 1:15 p.m. ET on FS1

WHERE: Dover International Speedway, 1-mile concrete oval located in Dover, De.

FAVORITES: Jimmie Johnson (4/1), Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. (7/1) and Kyle Busch (11/2)


LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Matt Kenseth won this race one year ago for his first win of the 2016 season and third win of his career at Dover. He led only 48 of the 400 laps but held off the hard-charging (but clean-racing) Kyle Larson to the finish line. The No. 42 led 85 laps on the afternoon as well.

 


THE FIELD

Kyle Busch will start from the pole when the race goes green on Sunday afternoon. His lap of 158.954 mph (22.648 seconds) was good enough to put his No. 18 on the pole. Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five qualifiers, with Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top 10.

Some other notable starters include Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 11th, Ryan Blaney in 15th, Chase Elliott in 16th, Kevin Harvick in 18th, Clint Bowyer in 22nd and Joey Logano in 26th.


AUSTIN POWERS

Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Austin Dillon enters the Monster Mile as a winner in the Cup series, something he’s experienced in his Cup career before. He, the No. 3 team and Richard Childress Racing as an organization, have some momentum. After all, RCR has two wins and JGR has none in 2017.

Dillon currently sits 21st in the standings, but has a playoff spot all but secured thanks to the win. He looks to build off the victory with a solid run this weekend in Dover.


TOYOTA TIME?

Martin Truex Jr. has carried the banner in terms of wins this season for Toyota, as he’s won twice and led a ton of laps. But zero other Toyota drivers have won thus far in 2017.

However, that could definitely change this weekend. Not only do they occupy four of the top five and six of the top 10 starters, but they ran extremely well last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 and won three of the four stages—just not the last and most important one.

Although Johnson is the odds on favorite to win due to his incredible track record (pun intended) at Dover, a Toyota is close behind, because it seems like their early season woes are behind them and the best is yet to come for the Japanese manufacturer in NASCAR in 2017.


JIMMIE’S HOUSE

The seven-time champion and 10-time Dover winner is going to be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday afternoon, that’s for sure. But his quest for win No. 11 will be tough.

Photo: Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

The No. 48 will start from the rear of the field after qualifying 14th due to the team changing a gear on Sunday morning. However, two of his last three victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series have come with Johnson starting at the rear of the field, most notably in the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway en route to his seventh championship.

Johnson’s 10 wins, 15 top fives, 21 top 10’s and driver rating of 118.3 all are the best in the MENCS and rank first in Dover International Speedway history. If he were to win, he would join Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty in becoming the only drivers to win 11 races at one track.


BIG NAMES STILL WINLESS

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.—just to name a few.

What do all those names have in common? They haven’t won yet this season, which is surprising. Considering Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon have found victory lane so far this season and none of those big names and some former champions haven’t, it’s a pretty big deal. 2017 has been a somewhat weird year so far, but I expect that to change soon.

Nine different drivers have won races through 12 events thus far. If more than four of those drivers mentioned above were to win a race before the regular-season finale at Richmond comes and goes, a driver with a win would be left out of the playoffs for the first time ever.


PREDICTION

As stated on Victory Lane this week, I’m not straying away from the G.O.A.T. in NASCAR and the G.O.A.T. in Dover. Jimmie Johnson will wind up in victory lane when the checkered flag flies.

In terms of a dark horse, look at the young guns. Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez have ran well in the XFINITY and Truck series races throughout the years at Dover. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has finished eighth and 11th in two of his last three Dover events.