Weekend preview: JJ looks to recapture magic at Dover

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — All of NASCAR’s national series are prepared for tight and robust competition during the perennial popular Dover International Speedway tripleheader weekend.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headlines the stop with Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after a dramatic race at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

The competitive mindset shifts from the sport’s largest venue at Talladega to Dover’s notoriously tough “Monster Mile,” where all-time Dover wins leader Jimmie Johnson is hoping to return to Victory Lane for a 12th trophy — in what would be his first series victory since the spring of 2017 at Dover.

“I’ve had Dover circled on the calendar for a while,” Johnson conceded to the media Thursday. “It’s going to be different — lots of throttle and probably more like the 2015 rules package that we had there.

“I’ve loved that place since I raced in the ASA Series. I’ve always run well there, so I’m excited to get there. Last time we had a freak mechanical issue before we even started the race and didn’t have a chance to get into the mix.”

No one has been statistically better than Johnson at Dover. His 11-win tally is one of the best efforts in the sport’s modern era — the most wins at a one track since Darrell Waltrip scored a 12th victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1992.

The 43-year old California native Johnson has led the most laps (3,105) in history at the track and heading into this weekend’s 400-miler, he boasts a 10.9 average finish and 9.9 average start at Dover — incredible statistics for someone with 34 starts.

Johnson’s first-year Monster Energy Series crew chief Kevin Meendering has five top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Dover in the same role and is ready to restore Johnson’s prolific streak of success at the track.

The two-year lag in trophies is the longest in Johnson’s seven-championship career and 2018 marked the first time he has gone an entire calendar year without a victory in 18 full-time Cup seasons.

Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has four top-10s through the opening 10 races of the season but comes to Dover after a disappointing 33rd-place showing at Talladega after running over debris and blowing a right front tire only 26 laps into the 188-lapper. The finish dropped him from 13th to 16th in the standings.

But the rough last outing has not dampened Johnson’s enthusiasm, confidence or hopes when it comes to competing at Dover International Speedway.

“It’s the site of so many good memories for me, I can’t wait,” Johnson said.

DASH 4 CASH FINAL ROUND

Saturday’s Allied Steel Buildings 200 at Dover (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the fourth and final round of the Xfinity Series’ popular Dash 4 Cash incentive program. Talladega winner Tyler Reddick, along with Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Gray Gaulding, are eligible for the final $100,000 bonus. The highest finisher among the four on Saturday will win the money.

Bell (Bristol), Cole Custer (Richmond) and Reddick (Talladega) are the previous three 2019 bonus check winners.

Bell is the only driver among the four currently eligible with a previous Xfinity Series victory at the notoriously tough Dover track, winning there in October of last year. He has finished in the top five in each of his two starts on the track and with 110 laps led in the two races. Reddick won the 2015 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Dover and has one top five with 23 laps led in three Xfinity starts at the track. This is only Briscoe’s second Xfinity race at Dover. He finished 19th in his debut last fall after starting 13th. Gaulding also has only one previous series start at the track, finishing 34th in 2017.

JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier is the defending spring race winner. He, Bell, Jeff Green and Morgan Shepherd are the only former winners entered.

Reddick — the reigning series champion — leads the Xfinity Series championship standings again with a 32-point lead over Bell and 74 over third place Austin Cindric.

GANDER TRUCKS RETURN

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series returns to competition after a four-week break in the schedule with the JEGS 200 (Friday, 5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The series kicks off the tripleheader NASCAR weekend with what has typically been a very competitive race.

2016 series champion Johnny Sauter has won the last two races at Dover and will attempt to become the first to ever win three straight there. This year, however, he’ll be driving for a different team and manufacturer (from Chevrolet to Ford).

Current points leader Stewart Friesen of Canada hopes to improve his history on one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. He holds a six-point edge on Grant Enfinger in the standings coming into the weekend but has a career average finish of 25.5 at Dover, crashing out in both of his previous starts at the track. Enfinger’s average finish in his two Dover races is 8.5.

Two-time series champ Matt Crafton and Sauter are the only former winners in Friday’s field.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Gander RV 400

Defending race winner: Kevin Harvick

The Place: Dover International Speedway

The Date: Sunday, May 5

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (ends on Lap 120), Stage 2 (ends on Lap 240), race ends on Lap 400

What to watch for: Richard Petty won the first Dover race on July 6, 1969. … Jimmie Johnson is the all-time winningest driver at Dover with 11 victories and his 3,105 laps led is an all-time best too. … NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Mark Martin holds the record for top fives (24) and top 10s (33) at Dover. Johnson leads active drivers with 17 top fives and 24 top 10s in 34 starts. … Eight drivers in the field have won previously at Dover. … Johnson (11), Ryan Newman (3), Kyle Busch (3), Kevin Harvick (2) and Martin Truex Jr. (2) have multiple wins. … Since 2000, a driver has won back-to-back races at Dover five times: Tony Stewart (2000 sweep), Johnson (2002 sweep, 2009 sweep, 2013-14) and Newman (2003 sweep). Chase Elliott won the last Cup race at Dover, last fall. … Kurt Busch has the most starts (37) among active drivers. NASCAR Hall of Famer Ricky Rudd holds the record at 56 starts. … Johnson leads all drivers this weekend in four of the six key Loop Data Statistics, including driver rating (114.4). …. The outside pole position has produced the most Dover race winners (18). Three times in the last five races, the second place qualifier has won. ….The deepest a Dover race winner has started on the grid is 37th (Kyle Petty, spring 1995). Truex holds that distinction among current drivers, winning his first ever Cup race at Dover from the 26th position in spring 2007. … Truex and Jody Ridley (spring 1981) are the only drivers to score their first career series win at Dover. … Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin have the most starts (26) without a Dover Cup trophy. … Among drivers with at least 10 starts, Kyle Larson boasts the best average starting position (8.8) and best average finish (8.5). … NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson has the most pole positions (six) at Dover. … No active driver scored his first pole at Dover. ….It has been six races since the same manufacturer won two straight at Dover. …. Chevrolet has won 40 of the 98 Dover Monster Energy Series races. … Johnson not only has the most wins but also prevailed in the closest race in Dover history, edging Kyle Busch by .080-seconds in fall 2005. …. Johnson has won three of the four overtime races at Dover (fall 2005; spring 2015 and 2017) His Hendrick Motorsports team has won four of the five (Elliott, fall 2018). …. Hendrick Motorsports has 20 wins at Dover — the third-most victories by one camp at a single venue. Junior Johnson’s team had 21 wins at Bristol and Hendrick currently has 24 wins at Martinsville.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Allied Steel Buildings 200

Defending race winner: Justin Allgaier

The Place: Dover International Speedway

The Date: Saturday, May 4

The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (ends on Lap 90), race ends on Lap 200

What to watch for: Justin Allgaier is the defending race winner, earning the first of his career-best five wins last season. …. There are four former winners in Saturday’s field – Allgaier, Christopher Bell (fall 2018), Jeff Green (fall 2001) and Morgan Shepherd (fall 1986). … There have been eight different winners in the last eight races after five straight years of drivers sweeping the season: Kyle Busch (2010 & ’14), Carl Edwards (2011) and Joey Logano (2012-13). Ten times a driver has won back-to-back Xfinity races at the track. …. Manufacturers have had even more luck in consecutive races. Since 2000, Chevrolet has won back-to-back races six times, Toyota five times and Ford three times. … Logano and Harry Gant are tied for most pole positions in race history with five. …There is a tie for first place in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings between GMS Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek and Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe. Both have previous Dover starts in the series. … Tyler Reddick — last week’s Talladega Superspeedway winner — leads the series standings by 32 points over Bell. … Reddick’s average finish of 4.9 this season is best in the series. … Joe Ruttman won the first Xfinity race at Dover in May 1982. … Dick Trickle is the oldest Xfinity Series pole winner in track history, qualifying first at 57 years, 7 months, 9 days in summer 1999. … Gant is the oldest Xfinity race winner at Dover (51 years, 1 month in fall 1991). … Front row has been the winningest place to start, with 19 of 70 winners starting first or second. …The last pole-sitter to win was Kyle Larson (spring 2017).

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: JEGS 200

Defending race winner: Johnny Sauter

The Place: Dover International Speedway

The Date: Friday, May 3

The Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (ends on Lap 90), race ends on Lap 200

What to watch for: Johnny Sauter has won the last two Gander Outdoors Truck races at Dover and this weekend he will try to become the only driver ever to win three straight truck races at the track. … Kyle Busch is the all-time winningest driver with four series victories. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers to win in all three NASCAR national series races at Dover. … Only twice in the race’s 17-year history has a driver won consecutive races: Sauter’s current streak and Kyle Busch in 2013-14. ….Of the three active manufacturers, Toyota has the most wins — double that of the next closest. Toyota has eight victories, Chevrolet has four and Ford three. …Toyota also has the longest winning streak for a manufacturer at seven (2008-14). … Harrison Burton leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 15 points over Sheldon Creed. … Stewart Friesen leads the championship by six points over Grant Enfinger. … Friesen has averaged a finish of 25.5 in two Dover races. …Toyota has won every Gander Trucks race in 2019…. Tyler Reddick is the youngest series winner at Dover, taking the trophy in 2015 at the age of 19 years, 4 months, 18 days. …. Popular young racer Natalie Decker, 21, will make her Monster Mile debut this weekend. It’s her first truck race since a 13th-place finish at Las Vegas on March 1. … Only two former winners are entered this week — Sauter and two-time truck champion Matt Crafton, who won in 2016.