Four drivers will be eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race after Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.
That means it’s desperation time for a number of teams who find their drivers at the bottom of the top 16 in the standings.
Kasey Kahne is in the basement after his exit from New Hampshire last week with a broken track bar. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has to find a way to avoid any kind of trouble at Dover and make up ground on his opponents, which will not be an easy task.
“Dover is probably one of my favorite tracks and always has been,” Kahne said. “It’s definitely one of the more difficult tracks. The hardest thing about Dover is on a long run your tires build up with so much air that your car starts bouncing a lot more and your head starts moving around a lot more.
“Every time the car bounces it tries to take grip out of the front or rear tires, whichever one is close to sliding. Trying to control that as a driver and with the balance of your car to me is key to really running well there.”
Kurt Busch echoes Kahne’s sentiments about racing at Dover but is also in a critical situation to advance. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was eliminated at New Hampshire last week in a crash with teammate Kevin Harvick.
Busch is 17 points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the final playoff spot.
“The tough thing about Dover is things happen so quickly.,” Busch explained. “At any moment, at any time, somebody can spin in front of you or you can lose control off the corners and you are going to wreck. There is no real forgiveness about Dover. That is what makes it tough. To be good there, you have to be good on corner exit.
“The track really rubbers in so you can see the concrete change to black as the weekend progresses. On corner exit, you get really tight or really loose. The time I won there, I could almost hold it wide open on corner exit. That is what you’ve got to have.”
Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon also find themselves on the hot seat. While Dillon is tied with Stenhouse Jr. (currently in on the tiebreaker) for the final berth, Newman is just one point below the line and be safe to head into the next round.
"You have to run hard the whole time,” Newman said of his approach on Sunday. The way the points work there is just more of a gap now from first to 16th and especially the top 10 with the stage breaks. You just have to run as hard as you possibly can and get as much as you can the whole time. At the same time, you cannot sacrifice the next stage for the stage that you are in. The big one is at the end. So, getting stage points and then costing yourself a bunch of track position for the next stage is not a good plan in my opinion."
Dillon has no margin for error to stay alive and most likely needs at least a top 10 to move on.
"It is a little crazier the way the rubber lays down on the track and the way you can get up really high at certain times in that race,” said Dillon, who has a best career Dover Cup finish of eighth.
“The bottom is obviously always the preferred groove there, but the top does come in pretty early in the race. I have always enjoyed Dover. Last year it was the cutoff race that put us into the second round and we had a solid run and were really fast on the long run there. I can't wait to get there."
Four drivers are locked-in to the Round of 12: Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch (wins) along with Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski (points). Jamie McMurray currently sits 11th in the playoff standings, nine points above the cutoff.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
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