Back in 2007, Martin Truex Jr. earned his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on a Monday afternoon at Dover. Fast forward to 12 years later – Truex once again earned the rain delayed win at the Monster Mile. This time, it was his 21st career trip to victory lane in NASCAR’s premiere series.
Truex, first took over the lead on Lap 245 and would lead 132 of the final 160 laps en route to the dominating victory in Monday’s rain delayed Gander RV 400. It was also his second win in the last three races as Truex had to overcome his car failing prerace inspection and starting in the back.
That’s why he was only up to 12th after the first 120 Laps. He’d inch up closer and get his first stage win of the season for Stage 2. From there, the domination was on in his No. 19 Toyota. The victory gives Joe Gibbs Racing their seventh in 11 tries in 2019 as three of their four cars have reached victory lane at least twice this year alone.
For the second consecutive week, Alex Bowman finished runner-up in his No. 88 Chevrolet. Bowman, crossed the finish line 9.501-seconds behind Truex, tying last weeks race at Talladega as his best career finish.
Kyle Larson came home third in his No. 42 Chevrolet for his first top five finish since last last year. It was also his fifth career top five result at Dover and the positive run he’s been searching for all year.
Kevin Harvick was fourth in his No. 4 Ford for the five time of the year while pole sitter Chase Elliott rounded out the top five in his No. 9 Chevrolet. The fifth place run was Elliott’s sixth in seven Dover tries.
Here are the main takeaways from Monday’s race.
Joe Gibbs Racing Once Again Strong As Kyle Busch’s Top 10 Streak Continues
For a majority of the day, it appeared that Joe Gibbs Racing would struggle. In the first stage, they only had two of their four cars finish in points. The best was Erik Jones in ninth. Then, in the second stage, they were 1-8-10-16. Not quite JGR esche.
But, when the dust settled, three of their four cars came away with top 10 finishes including Martin Truex Jr’s dominating day.
To have won seven of the first 11 races, it’s a start to the year that JGR wouldn’t have dreamed would have happened. Kyle Busch has won three times while Denny Hamlin and Truex have won twice a piece. All three are legit championship contenders.
Truex, now has two wins in three races to go along with seven top eight finishes.
Busch, kept his streak of top 10’s going to 11. While it wasn’t pretty, Busch still finished 10th in his No. 18 Toyota for the second straight week. If you go back to the end of last year, Busch now has 13 consecutive top 10 results. Monday’s top 10 ties Morgan Shepherd for the most consecutive top 10 finishes to start a season. Shepherd did so back in 1990.
Erik Jones, winless in 2019, finished sixth for his first top 10 finish since a fourth place run at Texas last month. It was also just his second top 10 since starting the year off with a third place run in Daytona and seventh a week later in Atlanta.
Hamlin, had the roughest day as he was only 22nd in the first stage, 16th in the second one and finished 21st (-3) in his No. 11 Toyota. After finishing 36th last week, it was a rough two weeks for him.
Overall, JGR continues to show us that they’re the team to beat overall.
Penske Struggled, Which Was No Surprise
It’s no surprise that Team Penske struggled on Monday. Despite them winning three of the other four races that JGR hasn’t won in 2019, Dover has never been a great track for them.
Well, Monday was no different.
Joey Logano was the top finisher in seventh. He did lead 16 laps on Monday, more than the previous 20 starts for him at Dover combined, but he never was a factor after earning a Stage win on Monday afternoon. He’s never finished in the top five in the spring race.
Ryan Blaney brought his No. 12 Ford home 15th, one lap down. He’s never finished better than eighth before at Dover and has finished 25th, 15th and 15th now the last three races on the season too.
Brad Keselowski finished 12th, also a lap down in his No. 2 Ford. The two-time winner this season has finished 12th or worse in four of his last five starts on the season.
Penske hasn’t won a spring race at Dover since 2003 and hasn’t even won the Fall race there since 2011 and 2012. In fact, over the last 24 years, they’ve won only five times, four of which coming in the Fall.
Another 4th Place Finish For Harvick
This was the week that we would see if Kevin Harvick’s speed was comparable to that of Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske. Well, he led just one lap in Monday’s rain delayed race and finished fourth.
Not a good showing to change my mind on if he’s a championship contender yet or not.
See, JGR and Penske have combined to win 10 of the 11 races run this season. They’re also have the best speed in their cars. That and with them dominating victory lane already, did Harvick have anything for them?
Heading into this weekend, Harvick had two wins at Dover and has also led 91 or more laps in six of his last nine Dover starts including leading 200 or more laps in both races a year ago. Furthermore, he had seven top 10 finishes in his last nine starts on the season in his No. 4 Ford as well.
So, to finish fourth, that’s a good day, but not when he led 201 laps in this race last year and 286 in the fall. It’s not good when he still can’t finish better than fourth. I mean, this was the fifth time he’s finished fourth in 2019. While he has eight top 10’s overall, to get no better than fourth is frustrating, especially considering that only one JGR or Penske car finished in front of him on Monday.
This was the weekend to show what he had and at the end, he still doesn’t have the speed to get there.
Bowman/Elliott Heating Up
For the second straight week, Alex Bowman finished second in his No. 88 Chevrolet. It’s showing that maybe the speed is in his car after all. Bowman, said after the race when asked if his team changed anything up in the off week before Talladega and he said that they didn’t do anything other than get some better luck. He said he worked on his midget and thinks that if that was it, maybe he needs to race more midget stuff during the weeks leading up to races.
Nevertheless, this is how Hendrick is supposed to run and look. Bowman, is starting to get hot at the right time.
So is Chase Elliott.
While he didn’t win, he did earn his sixth career top five finish at Dover in seven tries. He also led a race high 146 of 400 laps en route to a second straight top five finish on the season.
Last weekend, Elliott and Bowman finished 1-2. This week, they were 2-5. That has the tide rolling in the right direction. Throw in William Byron finishing eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson 14th and you get a team finally getting their heads above water.
Racing Package Made Monday A Track Position Race
It’s hard to take away too much from Monday other than that this racing package made this a single groove track again. With so much speed carried through these corners, the best line around the track was the low line. When everyone has so much downforce to stick to the low line, how can you move up and pass?
See, in the past, Dover was a racing surface with a ton of room in the banking in the corners. You could run high, middle or low. With a concrete racing surface, by the end of long green flag runs, you were left searching for grip. That created passing.
With so much downforce and minimal tire wear, Monday didn’t see much passing. A lot of the drivers cited that at the end of the race that it became a parade because they couldn’t do anything. If you moved off the low line, you’d lose ground on the car in front, so why do that?
That’s why despite Chase Elliott leading 146 laps, he could only finish fifth. That’s why the race went the way it did on Monday. Get clean air and track position and you would set sail.