Faster speeds at Dover ‘a pretty wild ride’

Monster Energy driver Kyle Busch gets ready in the garage before practice at Dover International Speedway in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — NASCAR racing is supposed to be all about speed.

However, Kyle Busch thinks there is a little bit too much speed for the drivers’ own good for the Gander RV 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Kyle Busch’s older brother Kurt Busch topped the speed charts in the first practice session for the Monster Energy Series drivers on Friday morning by wheeling his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Ford to a blistering speed of 168.445 mph around Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

Kurt Busch was the fastest of 23 drivers who unofficially topped the track qualifying record of 164.444 mph, set by Brad Keselowski in 2014.

Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch’s teammate with Ganassi Racing, was second-fastest in the 50-minute practice session at 168.106 mph in the No. 42 Chevrolet, while defending race winner Kevin Harvick turned in the third-fastest lap in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford.

Martin Truex Jr. climbs into his car to qualify at Dover International Speedway. (Special to the Delaware State News /Chuck Snyder)

The faster speeds are the result of the Monster Energy Series cars having 750 horsepower and more downforce this weekend as part of a new package that is being run at the Monster Mile this season. It’s led to eye-popping speeds and a cause for concern for Kyle Busch.

“You pretty much know as a driver what too fast is,” Kyle Busch said. “If you have a problem here now with the speeds we’re carrying through the corners, it’s going to hurt. It’s really going to hurt. The faster you go, the harder you’re going to hit the wall.

“Eventually there comes a point where it could be too fast for a stock car. Whether that it is or not, I guess that is for people other than myself to think. I’d much rather appreciate racing and being able to race at a more tolerable speed than what we’re going right now.”

When Kyle Busch was asked by a reporter if the sport was approaching the danger zone, Busch replied, “no question.”

“There’s no question that you feel you’re going really fast,” he said. “It’s really fast. It’s probably too fast. The faster we tend to go in the middle of the corners doesn’t always produce the best racing.

“It’s going to be big numbers obviously in qualifying. But we’ll see how that transfers to the race. I’m not overly excited about it.”

Kurt Busch didn’t offer any concerns about the higher speeds, he just said his team had upped its game for this visit to Dover.

“It’s fast,” he said, of the effect of higher downforce leading to fastest corner speeds. “It’s really fun. The guys nailed the setup. We were a little loose to start, a little tight on our second run, and then that run right there, it’s one of those laps where you say, ‘Go have at it. Knock it off the top.’”

Chase Elliott, who won at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama last Sunday, wasn’t overly concerned about the higher speeds. He said it’s the drivers’ job to go as fast as they can.

“You’re paid to go fast, so let’s go fast, I guess,” Elliott said. “It’s not fun hitting something real hard anytime you do. It certainly isn’t going to be when you do it at these speeds. It’s definitely physical, for sure. I think this is going to be a very, very physical race on Sunday, especially if the sun comes out and it’s hot.

“It’s fast. Is it too fast? Like I said, this is our job. It’s what we signed up for.”

Kurt Busch’s lap in Friday’s practice session was actually 10 mph faster than Kyle Larson’s pole-winning lap of 158.103 mph for the spring race at Dover last year.

Jimmie Johnson, who has won a record 11 times at Dover, said the higher speeds do concern him as to the type of race the fans will see on Sunday.

“From a safety standpoint, I don’t have big concerns,” Johnson said. “The type of racing we’ll see on Sunday, I am nervous about that. The faster we go, the harder it is to pass, the wider the race track needs to be. The critical areas around this track are pretty narrow and there’s really one groove around the bottom in most years I’ve been here.

“The tall spoiler, the higher speeds, I think that’s going to make the cars very difficult to really pass the car in front of you. From that standpoint, I think track position is important and that’s where my concerns are.”

Martin Truex Jr. said the drivers can definitely feel the higher speeds as they soar around the Monster Mile in just more than 21 seconds a lap.

“I can’t explain to you how fast it feels,” said Truex. “It’s pretty hairy out there — a pretty wild ride, a lot of fun, but you’ve got to really attack. We went faster every time we hit the racetrack without doing a whole lot to our car, just trying to figure out where the limit is because it’s something we just haven’t done here before like this.”

Truex also believes the fast speeds could impact the racing on Sunday.

“There’s no question it’s going to be harder to get close to someone as fast as we’re going,” he said. “It’s really fast. Obviously, you don’t want to hit anything. It’s a race car, there’s always danger involved, I guess.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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