Chase Elliott conquered the Monster Mile at Dover Motor Speedway after passing Ross Chastain for the lead after the race’s final restart. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Chastain as well, finishing second with the Melon Man behind him in third. Fourth and fifth were Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman, respectively.
This victory marks Elliott’s first Cup Series win on an oval since his championship-winning triumph at Phoenix Raceway in November 2020.
How did it happen?
At the beginning of the final stage, it appeared as though a race that had been slowed by caution after caution, delay after delay, for most of the day would finally see itself run under green flag condition long enough for the green flag pit stops to occur.
And indeed, for a very select few, they did. One of which was Kaulig Racing driver AJ Allmendinger, who had been running respectably and was as high as second at one point.
Yet when the sports car racing veteran exited pit road, one of his wheels became detached from his Chevrolet. As the No. 16 limped back to pit road under the power of three wheels, the caution flag waved again.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 2, 2022
It just so happened that race leaders Kyle Busch and Bowman were on pit lane at the same time. To make matters worse, they had already gone a lap down under the green flag pitting cycle. It meant that even though the duo could use the wave around to get themselves back on the lead lap, they would have to start at the rear of the field as a result, losing all of their track position.
Everyone that had stayed out at that point would be able to stay on the lead lap. That’s where the likes of Elliott and Chastain come in.
Chastain, who had led 71 laps at that point, would win the following race off pit road. Elliott would follow in second.
On the following restart on lap 331 out of 400, everyone watched the two as they shifted through the sequential gears on the all-banked concrete mile circuit whilst door-to-door. Elliott had a better restart than most while on the bottom lane. Chastain had chosen the more sought-after outside lane and flanked the outside of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as they entered turn 1.
After four laps, the two were still side-by-side, with one almost clearing the other nearly every corner before being reeled back. Then the caution flew again.
Not giving an inch. pic.twitter.com/TENctSUYzu
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 2, 2022
On the following restart, Elliott made an even better effort. In fact, it wasn’t just good, it was enough.
Elliott cleared Chastain, and despite having over 50 laps left to run until the checkered flag, the HMS driver weaved through lap traffic and kept his lead long enough to earn his first win of 2022.
It’s only the third time this season that there has not been a lead change in the last 10 laps of a race.
Who stood out?
After downsizing to a one car team at the beginning of the year and rumors buzzing about what the future of the organization will look like post-2022, JTG Daugherty Racing needed a good result.
A win would’ve been great, but a second-place finish is pretty nice too, and on Monday at Dover, team driver Stenhouse delivered.
Let's talk about Stenhouse for a sec. Yes, he needed a good run for sure. But even in P2 right now, he'd still only be 27th in points as they run — and like 100 out of a playoff spot. So they need to be thinking win or nothing here (IMO). Can you imagine if they pulled it off?
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 2, 2022
At the end of the day, Stenhouse and the No. 47 crew’s efforts certainly did not go unnoticed. Their second-place result is their best Cup Series finish since finishing second at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race in 2021 — more than a year ago. It also marks the team’s first top-five finish of 2022. But what makes the feel-good underdog story of the Brad Daugherty-owned race team is not the fact that they finished second, it’s that they ran second.
No, it wasn’t some wily pit stop strategy conjured by longtime NASCAR crew chief veteran Brian Pattie in the closing laps of the race, nor was it the race’s attrition that catapulted the often 20th-place team into the top five.
Stenhouse and the No. 47 team were just fast. End of story.
They didn’t lead any laps, but Stenhouse was running fifth at the end of stage two, giving the team much needed stage points and even more needed hope about its future in the sport.
In the final 50 laps, as Stenhouse ran second to leader Elliott, there was a point when the JTG car was actually catching the No. 9 Chevrolet. Albeit, not by much, but regardless of how one looks at the team’s performance on Monday, it was clear they had enough speed to run against the giants of HMS and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Will it carry into next week at Darlington Raceway? Probably not, but even periodically running well is better than never.
Who fell flat?
When Denny Hamlin won stage one early during Monday’s event at Dover, he and the No. 11 JGR team had something to be proud of. It was clear they had one of the cars to beat at the event and were maybe on the verge of winning a second race in 2022.
When Hamlin left his pit box under caution on lap 124, he had four new and fresh sticker tires were attached to his No. 11 Toyota and no competition for the race off pit road.
But as he crossed the pit exit line, he found another competitor racing alongside him — his own left front wheel.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 2, 2022
The crew, while dejected, serviced the No. 11 when Hamlin returned to pit road. The team had lost the lead and had to restart in the back of the pack.
Thankfully for them, however, Hamlin still had a fast car, and was actually racing his way back into contention. By the midway point, Hamlin was back inside of the top 20 and gaining.
Then it went from bad to worse. The No. 11 Toyota was back on pace when lap car Cody Ware spun in front of the unsuspecting Virginian on lap 243. Hamlin veered a sharp left, attempting to drive past the downward-drifting No. 51 before he collided with it.
It was in vain.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 2, 2022
The final nail in the purple-and-white coffin was a speeding penalty on lap 326. By that point, Hamlin was well out of contention.
Despite an excellent beginning to the day with a stage win, and leading 67 laps throughout, the team finished 21st, one lap down.
What did this race prove?
Enough is enough.
It’s time to make races have earlier start times — at least at tracks without lights.
#NASCAR TV networks,
Don't start races at tracks without lights at 3 p.m. ET.
— Daniel McFadin (@danielmcfadin) May 1, 2022
Imagine you and your family or friends have bought tickets to a NASCAR Cup Series race at a track away from you months in advance. You book hotels, transportation, and buy food. Oh, and don’t forget about the actual ticket price and merchandise too. After months, the weekend arrives.
But when you arrive at the track, you notice the gray skies and the radar is not looking good. They start the race but it’s stopped short 78 laps in. Even worse, it’s postponed until Monday. You can’t stick around. You have work on Monday. All of those costs were for nothing but 78 laps of green flag racing.
How many fans went through this scenario at Dover this weekend?
It’s an argument that has been the discourse of the NASCAR world for a few years now. Every time a race is postponed in any of the top three NASCAR series, the topic comes back again — streaming and screaming across the Twitter and social media dashboards of thousands, maybe millions of fans. Why? Because it is an issue that can be easily resolved.
Or at least it is on paper.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. There is a legitimate reason why NASCAR chooses to have most race start times at 3 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. like the old days.
It’s because that’s what the networks want. Now I should remind you that network television is the reason why you and millions of fans around the world are able to watch NASCAR racing in the first place without spending the monetary equivalent of bodily limbs on plane tickets and hotels. In other words, what networks say, goes.
But maybe you already knew that.
What you may not have known is why networks are choosing later start times in the first place.
Reading this makes me feel better about my opinion races should start 2hrs earlier
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 1, 2022
It’s about a game of risk versus reward.
A late starting time garners more viewers. That’s what data has proven year over year. Fans and possible race fans are more likely to tune into a race that begins at 3 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. However, this also means running a higher risk of having rain delay the event, which, of course, ruins any kind of possible viewership gain.
According to reporter Jeff Gluck, NASCAR officials have said they’re willing to lose two races a year for rain. Well, two were run on Monday last year with another being stopped short because of rain. Does that mean last year was a loss? We’ve already lost one in 2022. We almost lost another one at Bristol, and we’re not even a third of the way into the season.
Should we be catering to people that might watch a race now and then? Or should we focus on a loyal fan that will watch no matter what and also those that have actually purchased the tickets and made the effort to attend a race? At what point do we realize that focusing on that core fanbase is more worth it than trying to capture a couple 100,000 extra fans in viewership?
Or, you know, we could also just add lights to some tracks.
Where did this idea that Dover can't install lights because of the air base come from? The track always maintained they could, they had been toying with the idea for the last 20 years pic.twitter.com/TbCC0DcYnQ
— nascarman (@nascarman_rr) May 1, 2022
Paint scheme of the race
Talk about making diamonds out of … well, you know.
William Byron’s weekend began with a bang. Literally.
In the opening laps of the weekend’s practice session, Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet made hard contact with the wall. The crash caused irreparable damage to the Axalta Raptor-sponsored car.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) April 30, 2022
Even worse, because of the Next Gen car parts shortage, Byron’s crew had no choice but to unearth the team backup car — a blank white Frankenstein’s monster of other team’s parts, colors, and even name plates.
The team had to make do. So, they put together their Raptor side wraps and placed them on the white car, leaving the hood, roof, and nose with a base white color.
It was an improvement.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 1, 2022
If you want to argue that it wasn’t the best-looking car on the grid, that’s valid. However, it leaves something to be said about how quickly these teams can adapt when faced with the adversity of a parts shortage.
Usually, when a team moves to a backup car because of a crash in practice or qualifying, it’s the exact same paint scheme with wraps and everything, but with multiple teams having to share a backup car nowadays, it doesn’t always end that way, and sometimes race teams have to make with what they’ve got.
OK, that and it looked way better than before too. Rudy Fugle and the No. 24 team knew exactly how to make a uninspired black and greyish Raptor car into a bright one. Clever girl.
Crew Chief Rudy Fugle and the rest of the @Hendrick24Team push the back-up car for @WilliamByron to the grid. He and @joshbilicki are todays only two cars to the rear @MonsterMile. pic.twitter.com/LpFXSO42EW
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) May 1, 2022
Better than last time?
Going into the weekend, it was no secret that Dover Motor Speedway was in need of a great race to help the Monster Mile survive in the evolving NASCAR schedule.
Dover had lost one of its race dates and has been reduced to a one race schedule on the Cup Series calendar. Even worse, with fans still clamoring for more short tracks, some venues were bound to be set on the chopping block.
Dover was seemingly one of those tracks.
Thankfully, NASCAR’s Next Gen car has been improving the racing product almost everywhere it goes.
It was a similar situation to Auto Club Speedway, which up until this year’s Cup race, was to be torn down and reconfigured into a short track after not performing competitively for years, but when the series visited in March of this year, the new car performed with flying colors and provided excellent racing throughout the event. So did Dover follow suit?
Yes. But maybe not good enough.
I don’t think Dover needed any saving as it’s a unique venue on its own. The current car made for a great race and solidified “The Monster Mile” as a one race weekend stop for the foreseeable future.
— Rob Tiongson (@RobTiongson) May 2, 2022
The Next Gen car proves to perform well at NASCAR’s variety of racetracks, and Dover is no exception.
With 10 leaders and 17 lead changes, it’s a vast competitive improvement over the five leaders for 11 lead changes in 2021. Even more so, there were only three incident-caused cautions in 2021 at the concrete oval. In 2022, there were eight, proving this car is indeed hard to drive at Dover — much like anywhere else we’ve visited with it.
But the leader still seems hard to pass, and track position also seemed to be the rule of law throughout the day. There was plenty of tire wear, but not to the point where drivers couldn’t possibly take two tires and not keep their position. It wasn’t like Richmond Raceway where Hamlin pitted with less than 50 laps to go, unlapped himself, and took back the lead all under green flag conditions.
Dover is probably not going anywhere. Monday’s race provided entertainment, but not enough that it will see the return of its second date.
Throwback weekend at the Lady in Black.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Darlington Raceway for the series annual Throwback Weekend, when the stars of stock car racing pay homage to the decades of racing by honoring the iconic paint schemes of NASCAR’s history. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, May 7 at 10:30 a.m. ET, while the Goodyear 400 will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 on Sunday, May 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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