Monday July 15th, 2024 1:30PM

Several Cup drivers head to Dover hoping to score their first win of 2024

By Holly Cain NASCAR Wire Service

Going from the massive 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway high banks to this week’s Monster Mile at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway’s high banks is a huge change of venue, but not of spirit.

Certainly, that’s the case for defending race winner Martin Truex Jr., who has been close to a trophy several times this year but is still looking for his first victory of 2024 in Sunday’s Wurth 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and WDUN AM 550 & FM 102.9). Dover is a special venue for the New Jersey native, who considers it his “home track.” It is where he earned his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in 2007, and his four wins are the most among the full-time competitors on Sunday’s field.

The historical significance is important for the 2017 series champion, but 10 races into the season, Truex wants to win now and thinks Dover is set up to be just the place. He is currently second in the standings, trailing leader Kyle Larson by 15 points, but Truex is the only driver ranked among the top six in the driver standings who hasn’t won a race yet.

“Just build on what we learned last year and so far this year,” said Truex, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “And I think it’s important we qualify well, so hopefully we will do that. Generally, when you qualify well there, you get a good pit stall, and it sets you up for a smoother day. Staying out front all day long is very important and track position is very important since it’s hard to pass.”

Certainly, this will be a big weekend for several drivers wanting – and needing – to get on track with the All-Star break and summer stretch approaching.

Ford is still racing for its first win of the season. RFK Racing owner-driver Brad Keselowski is the only current Ford driver with a past NASCAR Cup Series win at Dover – his 2012 NASCAR Cup Series championship season. He brings two consecutive runner-up finishes (at Texas and Talladega, Ala.) to Dover. Two-time series champion Joey Logano, who drives a Ford Mustang for Team Penske, has four Xfinity Series wins at the Monster Mile.

Logano’s Penske teammate, reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney is ranked seventh – highest among the Ford contingent. He won a Xfinity Series race at Dover in 2017.

Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch is another veteran racing for his first victory of 2024. The driver of the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet has won in all three of NASCAR’s premier series at Dover, including three times at the NASCAR Cup Series level.

This week marks the return to the grid for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and 11-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson, now an owner-driver racing part-time in the series.

Johnson’s Legacy Motor Club driver Erik Jones will miss this week’s race after suffering a compression fracture in his back in an accident at Talladega on Sunday. The team has announced that NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series championship contender Corey Heim will drive the No. 43 Toyota for Jones this week.

Current championship leader Larson brings impressive season statistics to Dover with a series best 531 laps led. His five stage wins is more than double that of any other driver. He’s won both Xfinity Series (2017) and NASCAR Cup Series (2019) races at the Monster Mile and would like to rebound from back-to-back 21st-place finishes in the season’s last two races.

Practice sessions will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by a two-round Busch Light Qualifying session at 11:20 a.m. ET. – both televised live on FS1. Earning a front row start has been key at Dover, where the outside polesitter has produced more winners (20) than any other starting position.

Truex looks to go back-to-back at his home track ...

Much remains to be settled in Saturday’s BetRivers 200 at Dover Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and the championship leaders bring a mixed bag of experience and success to the race.

There are only three former Dover winners in the full-time field. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ryan Truex led a dominating 124 of the 200 laps to earn an impressive 4.8-second win over Josh Berry last year. This started what would be a Truex sweep of the weekend, with his older brother Martin winning the NASCAR Cup Series race a day later.

It’s not only a sentimental highlight for Truex, but a certifiable career highlight. He has four top-10 finishes in seven starts at the track – including a win and a pole position. His 9.1 average finish is tops among all series tracks for the 32-year old New Jersey native who considers Dover as his “home track.”

“Last year was one of the greatest days of my life and I’ll forever be grateful to Joe Gibbs Racing for helping me earn that moment,” said Truex, who will be driving the No. 20 JGR Toyota Saturday. “Considering Dover is also a home track for me, I’m filled with nostalgia, excitement and a ton of optimism towards what we can do on Saturday.”

Reigning series champion and current title contender Cole Custer won the 2019 Dover race, and JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier has a pair of wins (2018 and 2020), highlighting a really impressive resume at the concrete mile.

Of course, there are other competitors who are highly motivated to join this short list, too.

Xfinity Series driver standings leader Chandler Smith is coming off a rough 25th-place finish at Talladega last week – his worst showing of the season. But he still holds a 14-point edge over Custer atop the standings. Smith, the driver of the No. 81 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has two starts on the Dover mile, has never led a lap, and his best finish was 13th place last year.

Not only does Custer have that former win, he’s got six top-10 finishes in seven starts. The driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has led 237 laps, including 155 of the 200-lap event in a fourth-place finish in 2019.

Austin Hill, a tough-luck victim of Talladega’s hard racing, has only a pair of Xfinity Series starts at Dover, with a best of fourth place last year. The driver of the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet is right among the top trio, only 16 points behind Smith.

Hill’s RCR teammate, the 19-year-old Californian Jesse Love, claimed his first series win last week at Talladega. He’ll have an educational experience at Dover, making his first start of any kind at the famously challenging track. He’s proven himself up for the challenge, however. He’s ranked fourth in the championship and boasts the most stage wins (four) in the series.

Perhaps the one to watch this weekend is Allgaier, who is more than ready to put some rough luck behind him in 2024. The veteran driver of JR Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet has amazing statistics at Dover. He’s led a race-best 514 laps, including laps out front in eight of the last nine races.

This week marks the final leg of the four-race Dash 4 Cash incentive. Love, Riley Herbst, Anthony Alfredo and Ryan Sieg will compete for that last $100,000 check from Xfinity – the highest finisher among them on Saturday claiming the money. Sieg won the bonus last week in Talladega in what ultimately turned into a dramatic and exciting late-race two-car duel between him and A.J. Allmendinger. 

A 20-minute practice followed by a qualifying session begins at 3:05 p.m. on Friday and will be televised on FS1. Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman won the pole position last year. Only once in the last 17 races – Kyle Larson in 2017 – has the polesitter gone on to victory at Dover.

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