The second round of the MENCS Playoffs will start this week at Dover International Speedway. The first round of the playoffs produced some crazy races. I expect the same in round 2. The Monster Mile is a rhythm race track. Drivers who know when to get into the gas and how to preserve the brakes can make up for a slow car at Dover. This is a driver’s track.
The MENCS had one practice Friday and one practice Saturday. Most teams made one run in qualifying-trim on Friday so the practice did not really help the teams. Qualifying was rained out so the field was set by points. Practice was extended by 20 minutes Saturday to give teams so additional time to dial in their cars. I would concentrate on the long run speed in the final practice session Saturday for your Fantasy NASCAR picks.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Dover…
The MENCS received 3 sets of tires for the three practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 9 sets for the race. The tire compound used in the race Sunday will be the same tire compound used in the last 3 races at Dover. The tire is designed to lie down a lot of rubber on the concrete track to provide multiple grooves to race on.
Team Penske Racing announced last week that they built brand new cars for each of the playoff races (except Talladega). These cars were designed specifically for the tracks they will race on. Their backup cars will be cars that have had success this season.
The teams in the playoff have an * next to their names.
* Chase Elliott: Elliott has a lot going for him this week. Dover ranks as his best track. He leads the series in average finishing position over the last 10 races and he has the 3rd-best driver ranking in high-banked tracks this season. Elliott made 3 long runs in final practice. On his last run he said, “It definitely is not smooth. I can dive it into the corners well and it takes off the way I need it to on the exit. Overall, it is pretty good.”
Jimmie Johnson: The best way for Johnson to get over being eliminated from the playoffs is to win at the Monster Mile. It is something he has done 11 times. Johnson has 4 consecutive top-10 finishes at Dover, including a 9th-place finish in May. The No. 48 car was one of the only cars in race-trim Friday. They were trying to find a setup which would help out Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman this week. Johnson made a 8 lap run to start practice and he said, “This is not what I need. 400 miles like this will make me sick. It is way too bouncy.” They changed the back springs and Johnson said, “That is a lot smoother.”
* Alex Bowman: I did not think a 9th, 12th and 4th place finishes in round 1 would be enough to advance Bowman into round 2, but here he is. Bowman will really have to rely on Jimmie Johnson for help this weekend. Dover ranks as his 20th-best track. He has never finished inside the top 20 at the Monster Mile. Bowman made some short runs and said, “I am bringing it to you. If I don’t I will wreck it. It is un-drivable.”
William Byron: Byron is in a slump. His average finishing position in the last 5 races is 29th. Byron finished 14th in his first MENCS race at Dover. He has had some success in the Xfinity Series at the Monster Mile so maybe Byron can get back on track this week. The No. 24 car made race-trim runs in Friday’s practice. They were working on setups to help out Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman this week. Byron said, “The car is sliding into the corners.” He made another long run and said, “The balance was pretty good there. We got back some consistency. Just need a little more turn on late exit.”
* Kyle Larson: Larson is a great sleeper pick to win this week. He ranks #1 on steep tracks this season. Larson leads the series in laps led in the last 5 races at Dover (483) and he has an 8.1 average finishing position in his 9 career starts at the Monster Mile. Larson had the fastest car by 1 MPH Friday and he went straight to the top of the speed chart in Saturday’s practice. The No. 42 car looks very fast this weekend.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray will have some momentum this week after his 2nd-place finish at the Charlotte Roval. It was his best finish of the season. He has been good but not great at Dover in the last two seasons. McMurray has a 10.6 average finishing position in the last 3 races at the track. McMurray made a 25 lap run in final practice. That was one of the longest runs of the day. He either likes his car or was simply trying to figure out how the car would change over a long run. I am sure this information about a long run falloff will be passed to Kyle Larson. McMurray liked the balance of his car.
* Kevin Harvick: Harvick dominated the last race at Dover. He qualified 2nd, won both Stages, led a series-high 201 laps, had a 2.8 average running position and won the race. He has been hit or miss at the track in his career. The No. 4 team was working on their long-run speed. Harvick usually is not concerned with his single-lap speed. He wants drivability in the car and that is usually what he gets from Rodney Childers. The No. 4 car quit practice with 7 minutes left. That usually means they really like their car.
* Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was very good in the May race at Dover. He qualified 12th, quickly made his way to the front, led 40 laps and finished 2nd. It was his second consecutive top 6 finish at the Monster Mile. Bowyer made some long runs and said, “The car feels pretty damn good man. About the same as what we had in the spring.” Bowyer quit practice with 10 minutes left. The team said their car was perfect and nothing else they can do to make it better.
* Kurt Busch: The driver who wins the 2nd race at Bristol usually runs very well in the 2nd race at Dover. Busch won the night race at Bristol and he should be very fast Sunday. Busch ranks 2nd on high-banked tracks this season and 2nd in average finishing position over the last 10 races. Busch was happy with his car. He said, “The only issue I have is the bumps in 3 but I do not know how we help it there without messing up the rest of the track. I will just try to avoid them.”
* Aric Almirola: Almirola is not one of the drivers I expected to be in Round 2 of the playoffs before the season began. He is making the most of his opportunity to drive the No. 10 car. Almirola finished 11th in the May race at Dover and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford should be in the top 10 Sunday. Almirola made a long run and said, “Good job guys. This is what we need right here. Good job.” He was 4th fastest at the time.
* Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is a good pick to win Sunday. He has won 3 of the last 5 races, so it is hard to find a driver with more momentum than Keselowski. He qualified 8th and led 108 laps in the May race at Dover. He will be driving a brand new car this week and should be able to get it to the front. The No. 2 team was working on their long-run speed. Keselowski did not say much on the radio. None of the Team Penske teams gave too much info about their cars on the radio.
* Joey Logano: Logano has been Mr. Consistent this year with 20 finishes in the top 10. He will need to turn those top-10 finishes into top-5 finishes or wins if he wants to advance in the playoffs. Dover ranks as the 19th-best track for Logano. He has not finished inside the top 10 at the Monster Mile since 2016. Logano made a long run and said, “When I hit my marks the car is not bad. I just need to work on my rhythm more. Free on exit is the biggest concern.”
* Ryan Blaney: Blaney should have an extra bounce in his step after winning the inaugural Roval race at Charlotte. Blaney has competed in 5 MENCS races at the Monster Mile with a 21.8 average finishing position. His best finish was 8th in May, so he has a chance to run well this week.
Paul Menard: Dover ranks as the 2nd-worst track for Menard. His average finishing position at the Monster Mile since 2014 is 25.1. He qualified 20th and finished 34th in the May race at Dover.
* Kyle Busch: Busch is awesome in the fall races at Dover and junk in the spring races. He has finished 1st, 2nd and 2nd in his last 3 fall races. Busch finished 35th, 16th and 30th in his last 3 spring races. I checked my calendar and it says “fall”, so that means Busch will be upfront Sunday.
Erik Jones: Jones is now eliminated from the playoffs but that does not mean he will not be a good fantasy pick. Jones was running in the top 10 in the May race at Dover when he ran out of gas. The team will probably learn from their mistake and make sure he has enough fuel to make it to the end of the race Sunday. The No. 20 team spent a lot of time talking to the No. 18 team in the garage. I was told the Jones was testing for setups for Kyle Busch. Jones went out and posted the 3rd-fastest speed.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been a hard driver to trust this season but I never thought he would be eliminated in Round 1. Joe Gibbs Racing said they will use their 3 eliminated cars to help Kyle Busch in the playoffs. I expect they are referring to race setups. Hamlin practiced many different setups in practice and I am sure they did this to figure out what will work best for the JGR cars Sunday. Hamlin made a short run to begin practice and went to 2nd on the speed chart. He then worked on his pit road speed.
Daniel Suarez: Dover ranks as the best track for Suarez. He has competed in 3 MENCS races at Dover and his worst finish in 8th. In May he qualified 7th and finished 3rd. Suarez started final practice on old tires so his lap time was a little slower than they actually were.
* Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. considers Dover his home track and he has run well at the Monster Mile. Truex leads the series in driver rating and averaging finishing position in the last 5 races at the track. He has a 3rd-place average finishing position and led an average of 85 laps in his last 4 races at Dover. He should be a favorite to win Sunday. Truex ran most of his laps outside the top 15 in practice but crew chief Cole Pearn expects the track to be 10-15 degrees hotter on Sunday so their car was set up for those conditions.
Ryan Newman: Dover is the 15th-best track for Newman. He has only finished 1 of his last 7 races (June 2017) in the top 10 at Dover. Newman ranks 16th on the steep tracks this season with driver rating of 74. Newman made some long runs and said, “The track is either completely different from Friday of we lost all of our grip. The back and front has absolutely no grip.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon was eliminated from the playoffs last week and now the team has little to race for. Dillon has competed in 10 MENCS races at Dover and only has 1 finish in the top 10 (October of 2016). His average finishing position at the track is 22.3. Dillon said, “The entry is not too bad but I need to lift on exit.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon will not have much fantasy value this week. He only has 1 finish inside the top 20 on a non-plate track this season. It is incredible how bad this team has been. Dillon qualified 39th and finished 24th in his first race at Dover this year. I expect the same from him Sunday.
Regan Smith: Kasey Kahne will sit out another race and Regan Smith will be back in the seat of the No. 95 car. This is the worst track for Smith. He finished 34th last year while filling in for Aric Almirola. Smith made some short runs and asked for a rear spring adjustment. He said, “The backend does not sit into the track the way I need it too.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger had a good run at Charlotte (finished 7th) but do not expect the same from his Sunday. Dover ranks as his 13th-best track and his average finishing position in a JTG Daugherty Racing car at the Monster Mile is 23.2. Allmendinger was only 25th fastest after his long runs but he liked his car. He said, “The back is really good and the front needs a little help but overall it is not bad.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher has not been very good on the steep tracks this season. He finished 36th and 19th at Bristol and 20th in his first race at Dover. His average finishing position in his 5 career MENCS at the Monster Mile is 22.8. Buescher said his car was good on entry but chattering the tires on the exit.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: It will be hard to trust Wallace with a spot on your fantasy team this week. He has not finished inside the top 20 at a non-plate track since Michigan in June (He finished 19th). Wallace did a 5 lap run to start practice. He was on old tires and reported that he liked the stability of the car.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse could be a sneaky pick in Fantasy NASCAR this week. He always runs well at Bristol and he is getting better at Dover. Having Matt Kenseth at the track to share information with cannot hurt either. Stenhouse made some long runs and said the car was too loose. He came in and talked with Matt Kenseth. Stenhouse went back out and laid down the 10th fastest lap.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth will be back in the No. 6 car this week. Dover is one of his best tracks. His average finishing position in the last 5 races at the Monster Mile is 7.2. If his car is half-way decent he should finish in the top 15 Sunday. Kenseth always races better than he practices. Most of his laps were around the 15th position on the speed chart.
David Ragan: Dover has not been a good track for Ragan. Since joining Front Row Motorsports his average finishing position at the Monster Mile is 25th. He qualified 32nd and finished 27th in the first race at Dover this season. Ragan liked the way his car felt rolling through the corners. He wanted a little help on entry and exit. He was 26th fastest at the time.
Michael McDowell: McDowell has made 15 starts at Dover and his average finishing position is 34.2. In May he qualified 29th and finished 22nd with a 24.2 average running position. McDowell made a 16 lap run and said, “Not bad. We are making gains on it.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott (Don’t sleep on Martin Truex Jr. His car was not fast but that was there strategy. They are setup for race conditions Sunday).
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jamie McMurray and William Byron
Click here for MENCS Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
15-Lap Average Speed
- Kyle Larson 154.397
- Erik Jones 153.309
- Kevin Harvick 153.153
- Jimmie Johnson 152.658
- Aric Almirola 152.507
- Brad Keselowski 152.467
- Clint Bowyer 152.390
- Kurt Busch 152.196
- Regan Smith 151.945
- Joey Logano 151.869
- Austin Dillon 151.851
- Martin Truex Jr. 151.668
- Ryan Blaney 151.623
- Alex Bowman 151.617
- Jamie McMurray 151.434
- Paul Menard 151.396
- Chase Elliott 151.207
- Kyle Busch 151.003
- William Byron 150.996
- Daniel Suarez 150.867
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