Dover International Speedway, Dover, DE — August 22, 2020
It’s another doubleheader weekend, this time at Dover. By Sunday evening, the NASCAR playoff picture should be fairly clear. Only one race will remain on the regular-season schedule, The Coke Zero 400 on the oval at Daytona International Speedway.
Just to confuse things, today’s event is the Drydene 311 on the Monster Mile, Dover International Speedway. Sunday’s 2nd half of the twin-bill is also named the Drydene 311. Both races are 311 laps on the 1-mile track with Stages of 70/115/126. Martin Truex Jr. won race 1 at Dover last year, he starts 3rd this year. Chase Elliott was credited with the pole position, Denny Hamlin will line up beside Elliott.
Austin Dillon will be back behind the wheel of the #3 car today, having passed NASCAR’s return from COVID-19 protocol. Can you recover and rid yourself of the virus in one week? Could this be a false positive?
It is very similar to the Jimmie Johnson scenario. If, in fact, these suspensions were for faulty tests, NASCAR needs to resolve that issue before the playoffs begin. Miss a race during the playoffs and there is no waiver that’s going to rescue a driver.
Chase Elliott got a huge jump on the start and began to drive away from the pack early. It did not take long to mix things up, eight laps in Kurt Busch and Erik Jones got together off Turn 2. Busch spun and when Jones hit the brakes, Alex Bowman could not avoid the #20 car.
Kurt Busch suffered extensive damage and was retired to the garage. He already clinched a playoff spot as did Bowman, both winners earlier this year. The damage to Jones’ car tore up the right rear, the left front of Bowman’s car likewise needed repair. Both crews were able to tape down the damaged panels and keep their drivers on the lead lap.
NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after lap 25. Not everyone pitted during the yellow flag opportunity. Austin Dillon stayed out and inherited the lead. Hamlin chased down Dillon and took the lead with 11 laps to go in Stage 1. Jimmie Johnson gained valuable points to narrow William Byron’s hold on the 16th and final playoff spot.
Stage 1 Results
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Hamlin, back out front after the Stage ending pit stops, drove away from the hungry pack of competitors. Halfway through Stage 2, he held almost a three-second lead. Green flag pit stops for the leaders began with 51 laps to go.
With 30 laps remaining in the Stage, most of the leaders had been to pit road to complete service under the green flag. Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron opted to stay out and hope for a caution to gain track position. The gamble did not work, both lost two laps to the field during their pit stops. The decision could be critical for Byron, as he is battling Jimmie Johnson for the final playoff spot and Johnson is on the lead lap running in the Top 10.
Hamlin returned to the lead followed by Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick.
Hamlin sweeps the first two Stages and looks to tie Kevin Harvick for the lead in Cup Series wins with his 6th of the 2020 campaign. If Hamlin can hold it together for the 126 laps in the Final Stage.
Stage 2 Results
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Truex and Kyle Busch lead the field back to the green after the Stage ending pit stops. Keselowski runs 3rd, Hamlin 4th, and Bowyer 5th.
Once out in front, Truex’s car seems to respond to the clean air. The only car in close contact, with 80 laps to go, is Truex’s teammate Kyle Busch. However, everyone will have to pit at least once to finish the remaining distance.
As tires begin to fade, Hamlin moves around Kyle Busch for the 2nd spot. With 65 laps to go, the race belongs to Joe Gibbs Racing, 1-2-3.
Green flag pit stops began with 60 laps to go when Harvick was the first of the leaders to come in for four tires and fuel. Four cars, Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, and Austin Dillon chose to press the hope for a yellow as they were the only cars on the lead lap. Dillon stayed out the longest, but it was to no avail.
Truex ran down Dillon with 31 laps to go and resumed the lead. Dillon pitted one lap later and the Kurt Busch wreck is still the only non-scheduled caution of the day.
With 20 laps to go, Truex led Hamlin by just over a second. Kyle Busch ran 3rd, over six seconds back and fading. Jimmie Johnson ran 8th and Erik Jones 12th, both on the lead lap as William Byron sat in 28th. The bubble may burst for Byron if things finish in that order.
With 10 laps to go, Hamlin had closed to Truex’s bumper. With 9 to go, Hamlin passed for the lead. Truex’s tires seemed to go away as he struggled with a loose racecar and Hamlin pulled away for the win.
Truex held on for 2nd, Kyle Busch ran 3rd, Kevin Harvick 4th, and Chase Elliott finished in the 5th spot.
Playoff Point Standings
William Byron’s 28th place finish cost him the bubble, Jimmie Johnson’s 7th place run moved him into the final playoff position with a 3 point advantage over Byron. Without a new winner in the last two races, this battle will go down to the final lap at Daytona.
Erik Jones fought back from an early encounter with Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman to finish 12th cutting his deficit from 35 to 22 points. Tyler Reddick also moved closer to the bubble, but trailing by 45 points he is a longshot at best.
Matt DiBenedetto came in 20th and dropped to just 27 points above the cut line.
Kevin Harvick will clinch the regular-season championship with a start in Sunday’s half of the doubleheader. Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer are close to qualifying for the playoffs on points. Depending on Sunday’s results, all 4 drivers could be in.
|Rank||Driver||Points||Wins||Status||Stage Wins||Playoff Points|
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||803||1||In-Win||2||7|
|Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Drydene 311 Race 1 from Dover International Speedway
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.||1.179||311|
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||19.446||311|
|24||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-2||309|