Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin Does It Again On Dover Concrete

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

Winning at Dover Motor Speedway is all about managing the competition. That was what Denny Hamlin did when he took the lead over Kyle Larson coming out of the pits with 71 to go. Hamlin held on through one more restart to win the 2024 Würth 400 by .256 seconds over Larson.

See also
Denny Hamlin Holds Off Kyle Larson for Dover Win

It was Hamlin’s third win in the last three races on concrete and earned him yet another cucumber from the stands.

Hamlin’s win had its detractors; Larson’s car was clearly faster but Hamlin was able to shut down any attempt at passing by “air blocking,” moving around the track not to physically block others but to take the air off their cars, which took away the opportunity to pass.

Hamlin did what was necessary to win, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it left a sour taste for many fans and drivers because of the aerodynamic-dependent nature of racing at Dover.

And don’t forget Daniel Hemric. Hemric’s 2024 season got off to a dismal start, with just three finishes higher than 20th and a best finish of 16th in the first nine races. On Sunday (April 28), Hemric finished a quiet ninth, his second straight top-10 finish, a career first. He also led five laps on the day, the third time he’s led a race this year. Sometimes it takes baby steps to turn a season around, and Hemric made a few on Sunday.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

As aero-dependent as the racing at Dover has become, it looks like a no-brainer to let the track go the way of the dinosaur. 

But it isn’t. The one thing Dover has going for it is that it’s a unique track, the only high-banked, one-mile oval out there right now. Is there even a Cup-ready track that could replace it? As much as intermediate tracks have improved with the new car, adding more of them isn’t appealing. Kentucky Speedway is dormant but not without reason. Texas Motor Speedway certainly doesn’t need another race. NASCAR seems to have little interest in resurrecting Chicagoland Speedway. The intermediates that have had good racing already have two dates.

The best track dropped off the schedule recently is Road America, and with the Cup cars returning to the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that’s probably the most attractive option. But the Next Gen road course package also leaves a lot to be desired, so how much better is a question.

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway is tied up in red tape and may never see the light of day. Rockingham Speedway doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the series anymore.

Right now, there aren’t really a lot of options that would see Dover replaced with something better, and this weekend drew a very good crowd despite the quality of the racing. The key here doesn’t seem to be dropping the race as much as fixing the cars and perhaps the track itself (back to asphalt, maybe?).

See also
Kyle Busch Frustrated with Aero Blocking After 4th Place at Dover

Where… did the other key players wind up? 

Pole winner Kyle Busch had a solid day, and that’s really what he needed. Busch led a season-high 34 laps early, grabbed top 10s in both opening stages and took home his second top five of 2024, finishing fourth. Busch has only led laps in six of 11 races this year, and is 11th in points leaving Dover. It’s an uncharacteristically slow start for Busch, but he has top 10s in two of his last three starts and is looking to build a little consistency.

Last week’s winner Tyler Reddick was fast early, finishing third and seventh in the first two stages. Reddick never led a lap but hung around the top 10 all day and finished 11th. That puts him fifth in points headed to Kansas, where he had a win in 2023.

Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. looked like he had the car to beat early on, leading 69 laps and winning the first stage. Truex got a little bit of damage to his splitter on a restart when he ran into the back of Alex Bowman, and that was just enough to keep him from contending in the end. Truex finished third.

All-time Dover win leader Jimmie Johnson had top-five speed in practice, but his struggles with the Next Gen continued at the Monster Mile. He never gained any ground on his 27th-place start, running in the low 20s and 30s most of the day before finishing 28th. Adapting to a night-and-day different car has been difficult for Johnson on a very part-time schedule, but he’s got nothing to prove. He’ll race as long as it’s fun for him and brings value to his team.

When… was the moment of truth?

The racing at Dover has changed. It’s easy to place blame on the Next Gen car, but that’s not entirely fair. Aerodynamic dependence has been an issue for decades now, and this track is so difficult to race side-by-side that it’s become a game not of timing a pass but of taking the air off another driver’s car to get by

Sure, that’s part of the game anywhere, but it shouldn’t be the only game — and on Sunday, it was the only game. Larson had the faster car in the closing laps, and while he might not have been able to pass Hamlin, he couldn’t even get a run on him. That robbed fans of a good finish.

Dover is a track that needs some attrition. Not multiple huge crashes — we have superspeedways for those — but shortening the race to 400 miles killed most chances of mechanical failures. What the race needed was a tire a lot more like Bristol’s that wore out long before these did and forced teams to make difficult decisions. 

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

The Cup Series rolls into Kansas for the first of two races at Kansas Speedway. A few years ago, that alone was groan-worthy, but if the Next Gen has done one thing right, it’s to improve the racing on the intermediate tracks — and Kansas has become one of the better tracks the series visits over the last couple of seasons.

Kansas has been very kind to 23XI Racing; the team holds three of the last four Kansas wins with three different drivers (Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace and Reddick). The fourth race went to team owner Hamlin. Will anyone break the Toyota stranglehold?

See also
Ryan Truex Goes Back-to-Back at Dover After Double OT Finish

How… come the Xfinity Series puts on really good races?

With the mixed results of the Next Gen car on many tracks and the shows NASCAR Xfinity Series fans have been treated to of late, there’s been talk of why that series often has the best race on any given weekend. Xfinity put on the better show at Dover. 

So, would moving to a car more similar to the NXS car fix the racing at the Cup level?

It might help, but maybe not as much as we’d like to hope. The cars are only one piece of the puzzle, and there’s a fundamental difference between the other one — the drivers — in those two series.

No, it’s not talent. Or at least, it’s not just talent. The Xfinity Series has plenty of drivers who could be or will be Cup drivers. But watch them race and they race with a desire, a hunger that the Cup drivers don’t seem to match.

Cup drivers are at the peak of the sport, and the ones who win are likely there for as long as they choose to be. Winning’s nice, a championship is exciting, but these drivers aren’t racing for their lives.

The NXS drivers still are. They want that next ride, that opportunity at the top, but they’re also driven by fear of failure. That’s the fear and hunger that also drove the Cup drivers at one point in their lives. Johnson said he was terrified of losing his ride until he won his first title. 

Winning is pretty powerful motivation, and the Cup drivers all want to win. But many of them race as if the need to win is no longer a driving force, while the NXS drivers are still competing for their futures. That’s a piece of what makes those races compelling on a different level, not to mention they usually end up being more exciting on the base level because those drivers care so much. Unfortunately, there might not be a way for the Cup drivers to get that level of hunger back.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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4 Comments
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DoninAjax

I have felt for years that the teams should stop giving a driver a salary. Like in the old days, what a driver got paid was based on the money the car earned. The drivers might drive differently when they realize the car in front is costing him money that his wife and/or girlfriend has already spent. And it will cut down on the money the team needs from the sponsors.

Last edited 18 days ago by DoninAjax
Dan

Dirty air now air blocking. What’s next?

Christopher

Atmospheric obstruction? Ventilation variable?

old fan

Polar vortex?

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