The first nine races of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season saw Chevrolet get shut out of Victory Lane. And make no mistake: it was the equivalent of a 9-0 shutout in Major League Baseball. Heading into Sunday's Gander RV 400, the Camaros may bring momentum but they're still recovering from getting their butts whipped everywhere outside the giant superspeedways.
Indeed, it's been a dominant performance from Ford and Toyota, one that saw them sweep all the races and the top six spots in the season standings. The second year of the Chevy Camaro looked like a sophomore slump after its first year produced little in the way of on-track success.
But as the sport prepares for Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, the Bowtie Brigade is suddenly showing signs of waking up. Chase Elliott, last week's winner, sits on the pole for this race with Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron alongside. Elliott is the defending winner at this track, taking the checkers last fall and led a Chevy onslaught of teamwork at Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday to get them off the schneid.
Kyle Larson starts third, part of a Chevy 1-2-3 sweep in qualifying as he looks to end the worst start of his NASCAR career. Flipping end over end at Talladega marked his third crash in the last four races; he sits a distant 21st in the point standings. But the forgiveness of NASCAR's playoff system means all he needs is a win to get on track; Dover is the perfect place to do it. He led 378 laps here in 2017 alone.
It’s been an atypical slump for Chevrolet who sports more cars in the starting lineup (17) than any other manufacturer. Last week, they learned how that numbers advantage could work for them. But on a one-mile oval like this one, a Dover track where speed is paramount (speeds were up to over 168 mph on average during practice) engineering will take center stage. That's where Ford and Toyota have had their counterpart beat the past two years. Ford spreads the love through Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and the engine group at Roush Fenway Racing while Toyota has laser-focused resources at powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing.
Chevrolet has struggled to match that after SHR left for Ford in 2017. Hendrick appears to carry the load for everyone and has been going through a transition of their own; all four cars have experienced significant changes to driver or crew the past three seasons. Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing have lagged behind on chassis and mechanical development.
Perhaps Elliott's win, though can give them a burst of momentum with plenty of regular season races remaining. Believe it or not, he and Kurt Busch (eighth in points) appear to be the only secure postseason bets for Chevrolet. The other three teams in playoff position sit 14th, 15th and 16th in the playoff standings, a group that includes seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Getting just two teams in would be an embarrassment.
Can the Monster Mile provide another monster boost for Chevrolet?
Gander RV 400
Time: 2 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track: Dover International Superspeedway (Dover, Del.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Chase Elliott
Elliott's win capped a surge we didn’t see from the No. 9 Chevrolet team at the start of the year. The first five races were simply miserable for him: no top-5 finishes, no laps led and a DNF in the Daytona 500.
But a strong second-place finish to Brad Keselowski at Martinsville had Elliott turning on the jets. He’s led 167 laps in the past five events, pulled off the Talladega victory and finished no lower than 15th, climbing to seventh in the standings. He’s the highest-placed Chevrolet driver and the only one who’s clinched a spot provided there’s no more than 16 winners this season.
Who's at the Back: Matt DiBenedetto
Twice at superspeedways, this underdog driver has had a car capable of winning the race. Twice, DiBenedetto has left on a wrecker. His dramatic Daytona 500 bid ended in disaster, a race-high 49 laps led all for naught after a multi-car wreck on the backstretch.
At Talladega, the car wasn’t quite as strong although the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota was still in contention down the stretch. But Chris Buescher got turned right in front of him, leaving DiBenedetto no choice but to piledrive the No. 37 Chevrolet. It’s a second totaled race car for a team that’s a step behind already in resources compared to their top-tier allies over at Toyota.
Austin Dillon’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team was penalized this week after NASCAR confiscated an improper decklid prior to the race at Talladega. Dillon lost 10 Cup points, owner Richard Childress lost 10 Cup owner points and crew chief Danny Stockman was fined $25,000. The team will not appeal. Ryan Blaney's crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, was also fined $10,000 for a lugnut infraction.
Austin Wayne Self was reinstated to compete in NASCAR this week after completing the sport's Road To Recovery program. The full-time Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver, who drives a No. 22 family-owned truck, failed a drug test last month.
Joey Logano was honored by President Donald Trump at the White House for winning the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship this week. Logano said of the President, "He's a normal guy. You can talk to him like he's your friend, which I think is really neat."
Aric Almirola will be without car chief Chad Haney the rest of the weekend after the No. 10 Ford experienced issues in pre-qualifying inspection and failed twice. Almirola qualified seventh for the race.
NASCAR by the Numbers
The number of lead changes at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday, the highest there for a Cup Series race since 2014. The event marked the first for NASCAR without restrictor plates at the track since 1987.
Average finish for rookie Ryan Preece at the two superspeedway races this season. He was eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500 and third this past Sunday at Talladega. Outside of those two events, Preece has an average finish of 25.0 and hasn’t run better than 16th.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Chase Elliott is a strong pick considering his recent history and career average finish at Dover (4.3). But his popularity makes it easy to forget the consistency of hometown boy Martin Truex Jr. In the last ten races at Dover, Truex has never finished worse than 15th, accumulating eight top-10 finishes and even a win in 2016. He failed to lead a lap last year but won for the first time with his new JGR No. 19 Toyota team last month. That momentum should propel him up front for a while on Sunday.
Looking for another option? Denny Hamlin used to be awful here but has five top-10 finishes in his last six Dover starts. The past history will leave him underpriced in most daily fantasy leagues; don’t hesitate to pick him up. That’ll save you some room for a guy like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch on the top tier.
It’s hard to argue with Jimmie Johnson’s lifetime stats at Dover: 11 career wins, 3,105 laps led, holder of virtually every track record the Monster Mile offers.
But considering how close Hendrick Motorsports may be on setups why not try two of his teammates for a cheaper alternative? William Byron lines up second and hasn’t finished worse than 19th in two career Dover starts. Alex Bowman has a more checkered past here, never running higher than 20th. But that should make him cheap while a second-place finish last weekend at Talladega propelled him back above the postseason cutline. Don’t discount that jolt it gave a No. 88 team which was spiraling early on in the year.
I like the momentum rookie Daniel Hemric brings into Dover. The early part of his rookie season was filled with bad luck and trouble adapting to the sport’s highest level; Hemric didn’t even finish on the lead lap in the season’s first nine races. But a fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway could right the ship at the right time. Hemric won the pole for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Dover last fall and led 23 laps en route to seventh. Richard Childress Racing could give him the right handling package to pull off another top-10 effort.
Ross Chastain, starting at the rear for this race could offer some great position differential points in daily fantasy leagues. He’s finished as high as 20th here with the same Premium Motorsports team he’s driving for this weekend.
What Vegas Thinks
Kyle Busch was on top of the odds chart on Saturday morning, featuring 11/4 odds to win at Dover. Kevin Harvick slotted in second at 7/2 followed by Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.
What I Think
I'll say Martin Truex Jr. earns another victory at his hometown track, blasting by Chase Elliott down the stretch. But something tells me not to count out Kyle Larson. Remember, it takes just one win to turn your season from trashy to terrific.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.