Change only consistent thing at Dover this weekend

Monster Energy driver and current points leader Kevin Harvick has his car net secured in the garage before practice at Dover International Speedway last fall. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — A lot has changed at Dover International Speedway since Kyle Larson won the historic 100th NASCAR Cup Series race ever at the racetrack last October.

Race fans might not even be able to recognize the NASCAR they used to know when it returns to the track known as the “Monster Mile” this weekend.

First off, Larson is no longer competing in NASCAR after he was caught using a racial slur during a computer-simulated race last spring. He is now concentrating on driving sprint cars on dirt tracks across the country.

NASCAR also went through a two-month stretch of no live racing from mid-March until mid-May during the COVID-19 pandemic before returning to action, including postponing the spring race weekend at Dover until this week.

To top it all off, Dover International Speedway announced in early June that it would be moving one of its traditional two race weekends to Nashville Superspeedway, a track owned by Dover Motorsports Inc., starting next year.

If fans want a taste of the NASCAR action at Dover this weekend they will have to tune in on television, as the state declined the speedway’s request to host fans in the grandstands for the upcoming triple doubleheader of NASCAR action at the track.

Dover International Speedway will host an unprecedented six NASCAR races in three days from Friday to Sunday, with doubleheaders for both the Cup Series and the Xfinity Series scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

The Drydene 311 NASCAR Cup Series race will remain on its original Sunday date (4 p.m., NBCSN), while the rescheduled May 3 Cup Series race, also 311 miles long, now moves to Saturday (4 p.m., NBCSN). Each Cup Series race day will also include a 200-mile Xfinity Series event also sponsored by Drydene, including the postponed race from May 2. The Saturday Xfinity race will start at 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN) while the Sunday event will begin at 1 p.m. (NBCSN).

The new date for May’s postponed NASCAR KDI Office Technology 200 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race is Friday (5 p.m., FS1) and the General Tire 125 ARCA Menards Series East race will kick off the marathon weekend that afternoon at 2 p.m.

If it seems like it’s almost been a year since NASCAR and its traveling high-speed circus came to Dover that’s because it almost has been since Larson pulled away on Oct. 6 last year in the final stage and won the playoff race to snap a 75-race win-less streak and put a cap on Dover’s 50th anniversary season.

“What a day,” Larson said, after climbing out of his car on the start-finish line that day. “This is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a golden monster (trophy) is going to be really sweet.

“I’ve kept saying that I felt really close to winning here or anywhere right now. Our pit crew has been doing a better job, our team has been doing a better job. I’ve been doing a better job.”

That job ended after he was terminated from Chip Ganassi Rac-ing after he used a racial slur over his radio during a simulated race. He has since been competing in the World of Outlaws sprint car circuit where he has recorded six victories and has upped his stock as a potential free-agent NASCAR driver for next season.

NASCAR leads sports industry back

Mike Tatoian said he is proud that it was NASCAR that has set the benchmark with how to deal with COVID-19 from a sports industry perspective.

“I think we’re all extraordinarily proud with how NASCAR’s been able to navigate through (the COVID-19 pandemic),” Tatoian said. “The benefit I think we’re going to get on our race weekend is now they will have gone through this (a number of) times. It started off with an extraordinarily high benchmark of event protocols and procedures and it continues to get better and better.

“We’ve been able to learn a lot and (NASCAR) has been able to learn a lot to create a lot of efficiencies. So, by the time we get to our race weekend so much of this will have already been executed really well, so we get the benefit of everybody that went before us.”

NASCAR successfully returned to race in mid-May with no fans in the grandstands at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. It was a day when Kevin Harvick went to victory lane for the 50th time in his career.

Jimmie Johnson signs an autograph for a fan last year. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Harvick said that race day was one of the most significant in NASCAR history, which made it all that much more memorable.

“The impact that Sunday had on the country, as I got text messages from Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy talking about how great it was for America, (Phillies manager) Joe Girardi talking about how great it was for sports, how it gave them hope for baseball,” Harvick said. “The PGA called (in May), talking about how the sports world was watching NASCAR to see what they needed to do to get their players back safely.

“The impact was way bigger than 50 wins. The impact of that race meant so much in so many different directions. I totally on my part underestimated the impact that event had. Being the winner of that really, really drove it home for me, not only after the race with the fans not being in the stands, the lack of enthu-siasm that you didn’t have to share all your enthusiasm with everybody.”

He added, “There were just so many moments that were just so much bigger than anything that had anything to do with my stats. I was just really proud of our sport at that particular point for putting on a safe event and doing the things we did.”

Moving a date from Dover

While the absence of NASCAR hit fans hard during the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, perhaps it was the news that Dover would be moving one of its race weekends to Nashville starting next year that stunned local race fans.

Denis McGlynn, the president and COO of Dover Motorsports, said it was the perfect time to try to help NASCAR bring a presence to the Nashville market.

“I’m sure all of you, having followed NASCAR for the last several years at a minimum, are aware of the drumbeat that’s been out there for the change to the NASCAR schedule,” McGlynn said. “The race fans, the race teams, the broadcast partners, everybody is looking for a way to rejuvenate the schedule, to drive growth with the sport.

“It’s been a very cooperative relationship among all the stakeholders. I think everybody is excited about this. I think it’s a win-win for everybody, specifically for our company now that we’ll be able to have two operating Cup tracks, one here on the East Coast in the middle of major metropolitan areas, and the other in what is going to be the hottest market in NASCAR.”

McGlynn did say that Dover International Speedway is open to adding other events at its facilities in the future.

“We’re always open to any opportunity to generate revenue here at this property,” he said, about Dover. “Firefly (Music Festival) is a perfect example of that. It’s just that there’s only so many opportunities to find events that you can make money with at a facility that’s so specifically designed for motorsports.

“The first guy who finds something to bring in here that will replace what’s leaving, we’ll be more than willing to talk.”