Here’s what you need to know about Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway: It’s not a race for upstarts or underdogs, not a place where someone comes out of nowhere to steal a victory.
No, the Monster Mile is a place where the Big Dogs come to hunt, a fast, treacherous high-banked concrete track where the best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers shine. Dover is a challenging oval where calamity can occur in the corners, on the straightaways and even on pit road. Perhaps especially on pit road.
With all the possible pitfalls Dover presents, it’s little wonder the elite drivers shine here.
Here is my six-pack of picks to win on Sunday and frankly, if someone other than one of these guys wins here it will be an upset.
Qualifying was a disappointment for Harvick, who was only able to reach 18th in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. But his race setup was good, with Harvick’s car getting close to Freaky Fast speeds on Saturday, when he was sixth in Happy Hour. Harvick is a past winner here and should contend again this time out.
In both the first practice and the more important final Happy Hour practice, Larson posted the best 10-consecutive-lap average speed. He scored a dominating victory in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, giving him some extra track time. Larson will start Sunday’s race from the fifth position.
Martin Truex Jr.
A two-time Dover winner, Truex won here last fall, the last time the Cup teams raced at the Monster Mile. He had an excellent qualifying effort, putting the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota on the outside of Row 1 next to pole-winner Kyle Busch. In all three practices, Truex timed in fourth or better. And he’s been good all year.
Hmm … let’s see. Kenseth is the defending event winner, has won three races here and has posted six finishes of seventh or better in the last seven Dover races. Want more? OK, he qualified fourth and was top five in either one-lap speed or 10-consecutive-lap average speed in all three practices. Kenseth also has 17 top fives at Dover, which is crazy.
This one is a no-brainer. Johnson’s won 10 times at the Monster Mile, three more victories than any other driver in history. The only bummer for him is he will start 14th, which is not ideal here. Then again, when he won this race two years ago, Johnson also started 14th. Saturday, Johnson was second in the final practice in one-lap speed and third in 10-consecutive-lap average speed, so the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is dialed in in race trim.
The 2015 NASCAR Cup champion will start from the pole, which gives him the hugely advantageous first pit stall. In three practices this weekend, Busch was third or better all three times, which shows his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is wicked fast. And after narrowly losing last week’s Coca-Cola 600, Busch, a two-time Dover winner, will be fired up to win for the first time in 2017.