Bottom Four: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Dover

Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

Going into each elimination race in the Playoffs, Kickin’ The Tires will analyze the drivers on the bubble and the drivers below the cutoff line in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. 

Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Track: Dover International Speedway
Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil

Bubble Driver: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Bottom Four: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne


Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Time: 2 p.m. ET

Following New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. holds the bubble spot at the Cup series heads into the first elimination race of the season. When you look at the points standings, Stenhouse and Austin Dillon are tied for the 13th position. Because of Stenhouse’s wins at Talladega and Daytona, he holds the bubble position over Dillon.

At Dover, Stenhouse has made 10 starts dating back to 2012. Stenhouse has qualified on average in the 18th position. His average finish at Dover is 21st. Of the 3,359 laps he was run at Dover, he has only led three. Going into Dover, luck has not been on the side of Stenhouse at Chicago and New Hampshire.  In the early stages of both races, Stenhouse received early trouble. Unlike his 25th place finish at Chicago, Stenhouse was able to recover at New Hampshire from his trouble to finish in the 15th position.

Copyright: Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

“Even though we haven’t had the best two races to start the playoffs,” Stenhouse said. “Our two wins and the 10 bonus points have kept us in it. Coming out of Loudon, we made our car better and were able to execute during the race, which allowed us to hang our hat on something and put some pep in our step heading into Dover. Earlier this year, our car was really fast at Dover. We blew a right front tire while running third so hopefully our Ford has the same speed this weekend.”

At Chicago, Dillon finished in the 16th position, while at New Hampshire, he finished in the 19th position. At New Hampshire, Dillon received damage from the accident at the end of stage two and the heating and cooling of his brakes caused problems throughout the race. At Chicago, Dillon put his team in a hole because of a speeding penalty on pit road.

In eight starts at Dover, A. Dillon has an average start of 15.8 and an average finish of 22.63. His best finish at Dover is eighth. Out of 3,133 laps run at Dover, Dillon has yet to lead a lap. In the opening two playoff races, Dillon has yet to score a top-15 finish.

Copyright: Matthew T. Thacker/NKPPhoto

“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.  The bottom is obviously always the preferred groove there, but the top does come in pretty early in the race,” said Dillon about Dover. “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.”

Going into Dover, Ryan Newman sits one point below the cutoff line. At Chicago, Newman faced an uphill battle chasing his car throughout the entire race. Newman relegated to a 23rd place finish. New Hampshire was a weekend of recovery for Newman with his 13th place finish.

Newman as scored three victories at Dover in 31 races; however, those victories came in 2003 and 2004. In 31 starts at Dover, Newman has an average start of 10.1 and an average finish of 13.65. He has led 849 laps at Dover throughout his career. Newman is focused going into “The Monster Mile”.

Copyright: Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

“I have said many times that this team has got a lot of fight in them. Despite a disastrous start at Chicagoland, we regrouped and turned in a solid performance in New Hampshire,” said Newman. “We remain in contention. We’ve worked really hard for 28 races and we just have to go out there and do the best that we can. If our best isn’t good enough then we don’t deserve to be in it.”

Kurt Busch has not had the best start to the playoffs. At Chicago, Ku. Busch was caught speeding on pit road in the later stages of the race after pitting under green flag conditions for a vibration. Ku. Busch was finished in the 19th position. New Hampshire provided Ku. Busch with an even bigger hole to dig. In the final lap of the second stage, he was caught in a wreck with his teammate, Kevin Harvick.


Copyright: Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

Going into Dover, it is an “all-in” mentality for Ku. Busch and his No. 41 team. In 34 starts at Dover, Busch has an average starting position of 11.5 and an average finish of  18.62. Ku. Busch has looked at recent history in the playoffs and has seen that a driver who is on the verge of elimination scores a victory at Dover. Ku. Busch has scored one victory at Dover.

“It’s all-in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got, like we have been. We’ve got to find the setup that will make that car cut, that will make it go through the center of the corner, and carry that speed on exit and give it our best,” said Busch.

Kasey Kahne will have to basically win if he wants to advance to the next round of the playoffs. At Chicago, Kahne relegated himself to a 21st place finish. Between Chicago and New Hampshire, the No. 5 team replaced Keith Rodden as crew chief and announced that Darian Grubb would be on top of the box throughout the playoffs. New Hampshire was looking optimistic for Kahne to recover, but a mechanical issue sent him to the garage and for a 35th place finish. Kahne sits 21 points behind the cutoff line.

Copyright: Barry Cantrell/NKPPhoto

Kahne has 27 starts at Dover. He has gained three top-five and eight top-10 finishes.  He has an average start of 14th and an average finish of 18.63. Kahne has led 90 laps throughout his career at Dover. Kahne talks about the difficulties going into Dover.

“Dover is probably one of my favorite tracks and always has been. 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, said Kahne. “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.”

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