Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Dover: Forget Parity, It’s a 2-Team Race 

What Happened?

Denny Hamlin dominated the final stage at Dover Motor Speedway and held off a late charge from Kyle Larson to take his third win of the season. Hamlin’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. finished third despite punching a hole in the nose of his car on a restart. 

Hamlin had the edge on restarts late in the race, opening up a gap on his competitors. As the runs went on, however, Larson would close. This proved especially true on the drive to the finish. While Larson got within a few car lengths, he ultimately could not pull alongside Hamlin, who matches William Byron for most wins in the series this year.

What Really Happened?

The action at Dover — from the green flag to the final battle — was the latest installment in an escalating brawl between two titanic teams. While Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports dominate the headlines, the recent era of equality between the underdogs and the favorites is coming to an end.

See also
Denny Hamlin Holds Off Kyle Larson for Dover Win

After three seasons, it finally appears the Next Gen car might be beginning to lose its element of unpredictability. The widely praised parity of small teams competing for wins against big teams no longer exists.

The last two seasons produced 25 different winners from 12 different organizations. Many of these wins were more than just lucky superspeedway victories and involved the eventual winner running up front while leading a large number of laps.

This parity from the past has quickly evaporated to start the 2024 season. Through the first 11 races, only two teams have dominated everywhere except the superspeedways. Dover proved yet another example Sunday afternoon.

Don’t take this the wrong way, the race still looked good on paper. A number of drivers held the lead for periods of time, and nobody really ran away with the race. Even at the end, most people had a feeling Larson would make a run at Hamlin. 

This common theme appears almost weekly. A group of drivers take turns leading chunks of laps, helping the races feel a little more competitive. When you look at the pylon (or video board, depending on the track nowadays), the front of the grid normally has about eight common denominators.

No matter the track, no matter the discipline and no matter the weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports duel for the front, with Tyler Reddick and 23XI Racing third-wheeling just a few steps behind. The rest of the field stays consistently inconsistent with who finishes inside the top 15.

For a car whose selling point relied on how underdogs could fight with the big boys, the 2024 season has so far failed to fit the bill. This may not be a major negative, though.

While Miles the Monster loomed large throughout the weekend, the NASCAR titans driving for Gibbs and Hendrick offered up another battle in what will surely turn into a heavyweight bout for the ages this summer. 

Hamlin and Larson have traded blows for the past few seasons, and when you think about it, the Hendrick drivers as a whole have had a large share of incidents with the Gibbs bunch. However, the variety of winners and underdogs in past seasons crowded the headlines and labeled many of the moments as “racing incidents.”

Through 11 races, Dover proves the top teams can’t hide any more. Today, Larson and Hamlin treated each other respectfully. As the season progresses and desperation grows, expect intensity to increase — and tensions to grow. 

Who Stood Out?

Yet again, Noah Gragson represented the best of the Ford camp. True, Ryan Blaney likely had more speed. But Gragson was in his tire tracks for most of the race and much of the weekend.

Gragson had a phenomenal qualifying effort, starting well inside the top 10. He maintained his position fairly well inside the top third of the running order throughout the race, though he slowly drifted backwards. During the caution that interrupted the pit cycle, Gragson found his way near the front again for another solid finish.

Speaking of cautions and sorting out timing, Daniel Hemric deserves a nod for two straight top-10 finishes. Last week, it took NASCAR a while to award Hemric a ninth-place finish. This week he equaled that result, albeit with a much different path.

The No. 31 team played strategy, leaving Hemric out a little longer when green flag pit stops began in the third stage. Hemric caught a break and lined up inside the top 10 for the final few restarts. The track position game was unkind to others, but it helped Hemric maintain for another great finish.

Who Fell Flat?

What has happened to Christopher Bell?

The bad luck bug has spread to the No. 20. In each of the last four weekends, Bell has crashed at least once during the race. This weekend, Bell had two incidents in two days. 

Saturday set the team behind for the race, and Bell never really drove to the front like Truex and Hamlin did. Heck, even Ty Gibbs fought to 10th at the end of the race. Bell needs something positive, and he just might get it at Kansas Speedway — as long as he keeps his car rolling forward.

I know he didn’t have the highest expectations, but after a promising practice, Jimmie Johnson felt a little flat. He never cracked the top 20 and definitely struggled, especially early. The Dover master is still a learner when it comes to the Next Gen style of driving.

Better Than Last Time?

Yes, the aero blocking for the win is pretty frustrating. But it’s not going anywhere, because NASCAR has committed to this car.

Still, Dover remains an extremely underrated track. The wide racing groove provided the event with many exciting moments throughout the race.

While the battle at the end led to more air blocking, the overall race and the final run to the finish certainly was better than the last event. Running the race as scheduled on Sunday also helps as well.

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

Paint Scheme of the Race

Asking to pick a single best paint scheme for this race might be an impossible task. This week, the best looks deserve a paint scheme podium.

On the third tier, Bubba Wallace’s throwback to his U.S. Air Force look from 2019 paid homage to a great, simple scheme.

At the silver spot, Reddick’s McDonalds scheme made a splash. The idea to have a white base with the red dripping from the top down the sides translated to a great on-track look.

But the most identifiable scheme rolled with rookie Corey Heim, as he took over the iconic No. 43 STP colors while filling in for Erik Jones. The scheme design flowed nicely with the front of the Camry nose, and the bright colors stood out any time the car popped on the screen.

What’s Next?

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for the first time this year. The AdventHealth 400 begins Sunday, May 5 at 3:00 p.m. ET on FS1.

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15 Comments
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Christopher

If Jimmie Johnson had an ounce of self-awareness he’d retire. It’s over.

Ed Rooney

I know this pain. I was a Darrell Waltrip fan. A long, sad end.

DoninAjax

His ego won’t let him!

Kevin in SoCal

Yep, its crazy. After he won his 7th championship, its like the golden horseshoe left his ass and disappeared. I was hoping for good things in his IndyCar career but he had no luck there either.
Makes one wonder how much of his talent came from Chad Knaus? LOL

Jeremy

I think the Gen 5 car just really fit his driving style, and paired with Knaus it was a tough combination to beat. Especially in the “chase” format. Granted, he did win in the Gen 4 and 6 cars too, but I don’t recall him being nearly as dominant as he was in that winged abomination. But yeah, Knaus was a HUGE part, just like Ray was with Gordon.

Jimmie’s struggle in Indycar wasn’t much of a surprise to me. I thought he did OK, about what I expected he would do. Had a few good runs on the ovals, and struggled on the road/street courses. There’s not many drivers who can successfully make that transition. Outside of AJ and Mario from back in the day, perhaps Juan Pablo is the best to do it modern day? Sure, Tony is an Indycar champion, but if I remember there really wasn’t that much competition in the series that year? Dario tried NASCAR and failed miserably. It’s just tough to change disciplines between these series at the highest level of each.

Echo

I’m a JJ fan. Gen 4 5 6 car is all I’ve seen JJ dominate with. Maybe he’s just having fun driving now. It’s going to be interesting seeing if Larson does well. He’s great in so many different kinds of cars. And he’s a quick learner during a race.

DoninAjax

Even Brian was smart enough not to gift him number 8.

Bill B

Or do a google search for “jimmie johnson wreck at pocono ends his career” and watch the video.
Maybe just a load of BS but the stats are pretty compelling.

Last edited 17 days ago by Bill B
Jeremy

That is interesting. I had never made that connection before, but it is totally possible. I read Jr’s 2nd book and he shared quite a bit about the affects of concussions on him, and they’re no joke.

wildcatsfan2016

dropping in to say “hi”. Other than a few laps when there were 40 laps to go, I didn’t watch the race. The sun was out, it was a warm day and I opted for yard work instead. thanks for the recap, it appears I made the right choice.

DoninAjax

AGAIN!

Kevin in SoCal

Wow, even a bad race is better than yard work. Unless you’re a Hamlin-hater.

DoninAjax

Not when you see the results of the labour!

Bill B

Exactlty!!!
I wish I’d have done yard work instead of watching the race.

wildcatsfan2016

Well that’s a matter of opinion. Once upon a time, I would never have missed watching a race but IMO these days there are huge parts of races that I can miss w/o missing a thing.

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