Monster Energy Cup playoffs continue as the Round of 12 commences at the Monster Mile
Dover International Speedway celebrates an impressive 100th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with Sunday's 2019 Drydene 400.
In its rich, 50-year history, the list of winners at the Monster Mile reads much like a who's who of the NASCAR world. Filled with names like Cale Yarborough and David Pearson in the early years, some of the biggest drivers in the sport's history have graced victory lane. In more recent seasons, you'll see Jeff Gordon and more recent stars in Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. on top.
Perhaps what's most important heading into this race is that Talladega Superspeedway rolls in next weekend, leaving playoff drivers staring down a wildcard race smack in the middle of this round. The looming uncertainty next weekend brings a stronger sense of urgency to this race that typically features plenty of beating between the competitors as much as against the track itself.
Time: Sunday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Track: Dover International Speedway (Dover, Del.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who's at the Front: Chase Elliott
Fresh off of a win after spinning in turn 1 at the Charlotte ROVAL, Elliott has matched the number of wins he had throughout the 2018 season at three and still has seven races left to run. He also happens to be the defending winner of this race.
What's more is that Elliott has a pretty impressive, albeit a little short, history at the Monster Mile. In seven races, he's finished outside the top five just once (12th – May 2019). Additionally, he started on the pole earlier this year and led an impressive 145 laps before dropping to a fifth-place finish. With momentum on his side following a victory last week, Elliott looks to solidify his spot in the next round of the playoffs with another strong run Sunday.
Who's at the Back: Erik Jones
After a dismal first round of the playoffs, Jones was the lone Joe Gibbs Racing driver knocked out of the championship battle following last week's race at the Charlotte ROVAL. Finishes of 36th, 40th, and 40th in the first round saw Jones net just three points in three races, the lowest of any playoff driver to date, which leaves him on the outside of a championship battle that his other three teammates currently hold the top three positions.
The one glimmer for Jones came at Richmond Raceway when he was part of a JGR 1-2-3-4 finish before he was disqualified following post-race inspection. And while that race was an indication that the No. 20 team has the speed to compete, the 40th-place finish there was the nail in the coffin for Jones' championship hopes before the Round of 16 was even completed.
Despite failing to make the playoffs in its first season in NASCAR, Ally Financial extended its partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. The original agreement had Ally as primary sponsor on Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet through the 2020 season, which is also when his current contract is set to expire. The extension guarantees that partnership through 2023, though any future announcements about Johnson's contract will be announced at a later date.
After spending two years running in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, Tyler Reddick joins RCR's Cup Series outfit in 2020. Moving to the No. 8 Chevrolet that will be vacated by Daniel Hemric at the end of this season, the 2018 Xfinity Series champion has just two Cup starts this season including a best finish of ninth at Kansas Speedway in May.
For RCR, Reddick could turn out to be a tipping point for the organization to elevate it to the performance level it once was.
"We've had a couple of different teammates over the years, and I feel like I've been competitive against all of them," Dillon said. "I feel like he's really creative with his lines and not afraid to try different things. I've been looking for someone like this to come in and help. I think together, we can do that."
Bubba Wallace was in the news for all the wrong reasons this week. After tangling with Alex Bowman for much of last week's race at the Charlotte ROVAL, Wallace ended up throwing a drink in an ailing Bowman's face as he sat on pit road being treated for dehydration. NASCAR opted not to punish Wallace for his actions.
Bowman, when asked about the incident between the two during Friday's media availability at Dover, dodged making any comments about Wallace, instead opting to focus on what his team needs to do to move forward in the playoffs.
"I'm just focused on running well this weekend," Bowman explained. "I feel like he said what he had to say after the race. I've just been kind of moving forward since then. I don't think we need to talk before Sunday. I think it is what it is."
NASCAR by the Numbers
Drivers who have finished inside the top 10 in all three races of the 2019 playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. went back-to-back with wins to open the first round before settling for a seventh-place finish at the ROVAL. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, though they have yet to find victory lane during this championship battle, each have top 10s in their first three playoff races.
Top 10s for Alex Bowman in his first playoffs. He got caught up in a three-car wreck at Richmond Raceway and nursed a wounded No. 88 Chevrolet to a 23rd-place finish. But a sixth-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, along with a runner-up result last weekend at Charlotte's ROVAL were just enough to keep his playoff hopes alive.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
It's hard not to pick Chase Elliott, who carries momentum with him following a Charlotte ROVAL victory and enters one of his better tracks as the defending winner. He's led more than 100 laps twice in seven starts and boasts a best average finish among active drivers of 4.4.
Jimmie Johnson enters as the active leader in wins, top fives, and top 10s at Dover, and the uptick in performance with Cliff Daniels atop the pit box could spell great things for the No. 48 team. With nothing to lose, this weekend could finally be where Johnson sees his extended winless streak come to an end.
Daniel Suarez hasn't exactly been burning up the track this season but he has pretty decent past results at Dover. With just five starts at the Monster Mile to his name, his worst finish came as an 11th-place run earlier this year. He's second only to Chase Elliott when it comes to average finish at this track.
What Vegas Thinks
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. lead the way at Dover with 4/1 odds to win. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson are next at 6/1 odds
Jimmie Johnson as a longshot isn't a bad bet at one of his best tracks. He sits at 30/1.
What I Think
I'll go with Chase Elliott, who sits at 7/1 odds to win this weekend. With momentum on his side and a pretty stellar record in his short career, he seems like a pretty solid bet to open this round of the playoffs in victory lane.
(Top photo courtesy of @NASCAR)