CRANDALL: How Dover got its Monster back

Dover Motor Speedway just might have a second chance at life.

It had been a while since the one-mile concrete oval in “The First State” had put on a first-rate show. For one reason or another, Dover became a dud. And when the track lost one of its races going into last season when Speedway Motorsports took it to Nashville, it was easy to shrug a shoulder and move on.

Miles the Monster had lost its muscle. Monday afternoon, he thankfully got it back.

NASCAR was quick to point to the numbers afterward – 21 green flag passes for the lead, which was the most at the track since 2013. There were 17 lead changes in all with 10 different leaders. In the same race a year ago, there were 10 lead changes between five drivers.

But put aside the numbers. The eye test is what really matters sometimes, and Dover passed the eye test.

“It was a tough battle out there,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished second. “The track was tough. The cars were tough to drive.”

Next Gen performed well at Dover whereas it hadn’t on other smaller tracks. Phoenix (one mile), Richmond (.750 miles), and Martinsville (.526 miles) were criticized for not leaving much to talk about.

There had to be some specious optimism about how the Duramax Drydene 400 at Dover was going to go. And hearing drivers say in practice on Saturday that they were going much faster than they expected didn’t help. There were also five crashes in practice. So, the race was either going to be a wreck-fest, or a typical Dover dud.

Fortunately, it was neither. Kudos also go to Fox Sports for doing a respectable job highlighting many battles throughout the field and not focusing on the leader or first few drivers logging laps.

Race winner Chase Elliott said Next Gen did have some differences in how it performed than previous cars at Dover. He also mentioned the tire. It’s rare to get tire management races in the Cup Series these days, but Dover provided one with long green flag runs.

Ryan Blaney had a tire issue before the competition caution Sunday. Kyle Larson appeared to spin because of a tire that went down. Tyler Reddick was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop because of a flat right-front tire.

Having big tire fall off added an element to the race to watch for. Who could manage their tires the best, especially as the race wound down? The final run to the finish was 53 laps.

“Without getting into super fine details, it felt pretty similar, I would say,” Elliott said. “(That) would probably be the best way to describe it for just everybody watching the race and the fans. Very similar. I don’t think it looked a ton different from the outside looking in, just watching guys race around each other. It looked very similar to races of old.

“There are some details on how the car drives, there are some differences that we’ll certainly try to attack and make better before we come back. Overall, from a general point of view, pretty similar to Dover.”

Monday’s race wasn’t the best of the season and certainly not on Dover’s resume. It didn’t even have advertising moments that would likely make the NASCAR highlight reel of spectacular action and crashes when future events.

Dirty air was still an issue, but that has been the case for years. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman were two drivers bit by an untimely caution on lap 324 that took away their chances at contending for the race win. After taking the wave around, Bowman was able to salvage a fifth-place finish and Busch came home seventh.

But both looked like the cars to beat until the unfortunate twist of racing fate. Busch led the most laps at 103.

NASCAR brought up the green flag passes for the lead, but a more worthwhile statistic is just green flag passes. That shows action and movement on the racetrack. On Monday, there were 1,511 green flag passes (4.6 per green flag lap) according to the loop data. There were not nearly as many a year ago with only 659 (1.8 per green flag lap).

And for transparency’s sake, there were 933 in the second race of the 2020 season and 1,749 in the spring ’20 race. So clearly, Monday’s event was a step in the right direction.

However, let’s not over-dramatize it. Dover wasn’t by any means a classic, and it probably shouldn’t even be categorized as great. It was good, though. A good way to spend a Monday afternoon. And sometimes that’s all you can ask for a race, and certainly for a venue that hadn’t had one worth talking about in quite some time.

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