Drivers ready to feel the heat at Monster Mile doubleheader

DOVER — A 622-mile family roadtrip on a hot August weekend may sound pretty exhausting.

Now double the speed, add four high-banked turns and crank up the heat and you’ll have a better idea what NASCAR’s Cup Series drivers are facing over the next couple days at Dover International Speedway.

The grueling weekend gets started today with the Drydene 311 at 4 p.m. They’ll then do it all over again on Sunday with another Drydene 311 at 4 p.m.

Both races are being televised on NBCSN. It’s only the third time that Cup races have been held at the same track on consecutive days.

The unusual situation came about after Dover’s May race weekend was postponed by the conronavirus pandemic. With the pandemic ongoing, fans won’t be permitted at the track this weekend, which includes a total of six races on the Monster Mile.

The Cup drivers expect to get a workout.

“I’d say Dover lines up as one of the most physical race tracks,” said driver Ty Dillon. “It’s really tough inside the car just because it’s so fast and the banking changes. So this will be another test physically.”

The heat was so intense during last week’s Daytona road course race that NASCAR is allowing drivers to remove a portion of their right-side windows for this weekend’s events. The move is expected to improve air flow in the car.

That was welcome news for the drivers after Daytona. Several of them said it was the worst heat they’ve had to face inside a car.

Dillon, who considers himself to be in top physical condition, wears a heart monitor during races.

“I was on an average of 148 beats per minute for four hours. … in that heat, it’s crazy,” he said. “And I was up to about 3,000 calories burned. It was very brutal.

“It took my body, I’d say two days at least to really start feeling like I was recovering.

“That was one of the toughest things I’ve gone through as a driver,” Dillon added.

“Oh, it was hot, no doubt,” agreed Martn Truex, Jr., who placed third last week. “It was crazy hot. I think probably without that break for lightning, a lot of guys wouldn’t have made it. It’s so hot in these things. 

“Just to put it in perspective, when we get out of the car, that feels like air-conditioning.”

With no qualifying due to the pandemic, NASCAR’s competition formula puts Chase Elliott on the pole for today’s Cup race.

Elliott comes to Dover fourth in the season points standings. He’s on a run of four straight top-10 finishes — including a victory last week at Daytona.

“I have learned — and learned the hard way in some cases — that you just can’t take them (victories) for granted,” Elliott said last week. “They’re just too hard to get — and it should be. That makes the feeling of victory feel that much better because it is so hard.

“You just have to enjoy them. You never know if you’ll ever get another one or what tomorrow brings.”

Kyle Larson actually won the last Dover Cup race, winning here last October. But he’s not driving in the Cup series right now after being dropped by his team earlier in the season.

In the last 10 Cup races at Dover, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Truex, Jr. have all won twice.

With a track-record 11 wins on the Monster Mile, Johnson always has to be considered a contender here. On the other hand, he’s also just trying to get himself in position to make the 16-car playoffs in his final full-time Cup season.

With three races remaining before the playoffs, Johnson is 17th in the points standings.

“I love the track, obviously,” said Johnson. “I’m very optimistic about how we’re going to run.

“For all of us out there, Dover is a track where you can get caught up in stuff and have a lot of cars affected. … I think the first race, being smart, just kind of seeing how things unfold, see where things lay out will get me in a better mindset of how I need to race on Sunday.”

Even with this weekend’s unusual schedule, it’s the end of an era for Dover.

The Monster Mile has hosted two Cup races every season since 1971, two years after the track opened. But Dover will host just one race weekend next season — probably in May — with its other race moving to its track in Nashville.

Maybe it’s fitting that the schedule change comes as Johnson may be running his last races at Dover. He’s won back-to-back races here three times — including winning both in 2002.

That sweep, in Johnson’s first season, is still special to him.

“When I look back, I can kind of smile now and I had no idea the foreshadowing of that year, of that track and what it would mean,” he said.