NASCAR at Dover notebook: Winner in 2016 thriller, Kenseth set for Dover challenge

DOVER — Matt Kenseth has always seemed to have a quiet, sneaky way of finding his way to the top in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

That’s OK with him, let all of the other drivers make all the noise. He just wants to collect trophies.

Kenseth enters Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism race at Dover International Speedway as the defending winner of the event.

Last spring, Kenseth won a thriller at Dover as, on old tires, he outlasted a charging Kyle Larson, leading the final 47 laps on his way to victory.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup Series champion, expects Dover to put up many hurdles as he attempts to repeat on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of different challenges, at least that we had at Dover last year, and it’s always really hard to get all of those aspects right,” Kenseth said.

Matt Kenseth signs an autograph before practice runs start on Friday at Dover International Speedway. (Special to the Delaware State News/Jon Lloyd Jr.)

“Your balance changes significantly as well based on your track position, so for me, it’s just hard to get the whole package put together at Dover.”

He has been able to figure out Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval in the past.

In 36 career starts at Dover, Kenseth has three wins, 17 top-five finishes, 24 top-10s and a 12.8 average finish. He also has three pole positions at the Monster Mile.

Kenseth, a 45-year-old driver from Cambridge, Wisconsin, enters Sunday’s race coming off a fourth-place finish at Charlotte. He is currently the oldest driver who regularly competes in the Monster Energy Series.

He said that stage racing, breaking the race into smaller segments, will change the game.

“Dover used to be a race where you used to get some long green-flag runs where a lot of people would fall a lap down and there weren’t a lot of cars on the lead lap,” Kenseth said.

“Being able to stay on that lead lap was always really important and then being able to work your strategy on those last couple of stops, but now with the stage cautions, there will be more cars on the lead lap.”

Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief, is hoping Dover can provide a spark to the Joe Gibbs Racing team that has yet to win in 2017.

“Last year, we were fortunate enough to get our first win of the season at Dover, so I’m hopeful that it will be a great weekend ahead for our No. 20 team to help give us another boost of momentum with a good finish,” Ratcliff said.

Tempers flare in Xfinity practice crash

Joey Gase and Spencer Gallagher were involved in a crash with just 20 minutes left in the first Xfinity Series practice session at Dover on Friday morning.

Gase, while entering the third turn, slowed down more than Gallagher expected and the two collided, sending both cars into the outside wall.

Gallagher was not pleased after both drivers were forced to go to backup cars for today’s OneMain Financial 200 Xfinity Series race.

“He just stopped going into three,” Gallagher said to his team over his radio. “What is he thinking? Unbelievable! I’m sorry guys.”

Gase had a different view of the incident.

“He just flat-out spun me going into (turn) three for no reason,” he said. “We were struggling really bad. I gave him plenty of room and he just drove right into me.”

The drivers had a brief conversation in the garage area after the crash.

“All (Gallagher) said was ‘get the hell away from me,’ so he didn’t give me a reason or anything other than I guess he just sucks really, really bad,” Gase said.

Eight Cup teams miss practice time

Eight Monster Energy Series race teams missed practice time Friday morning at Dover for inspection issues that took place last weekend at Charlotte.

The six Cup teams that failed inspection twice last weekend and missed 15 minutes of practice on Friday were: Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick, Ty Dillon, Regan Smith, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones also sat out 15 minutes of practice because their cars were both late to inspection before the race at Charlotte.

Chastain in the middle of it all

Ross Chastain is the only driver competing in all three NASCAR races at Dover this weekend.

Racing the Delaware Office of Highway/Safety #66 truck, Ross Chastain of Alva, Fl prepares to qualify in the Bar Harbour 200 at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

However, Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism will certainly be the biggest for the 24-year-old driver considering it will be his debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

All three of Chastain’s race vehicles at the Monster Mile are carrying sponsorship from the Delaware Office of Highway Safety and all carry the theme of “Protect Your Melon.”

Chastain is involved with Florida watermelon growers, so the idea of buckling up and “protecting your melon” fits perfectly.

Racing the Delaware Office of Highway/Safety #66 truck, Ross Chastain of Alva, Fl qualifies in the Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“This partnership is extra exciting to me because OHS and (Johnny Davis Motorsports) have found a way to promote two causes that are closest to my heart – safe driving and agriculture,” Chastain said. “We have a lot of ideas for the ‘Protect Your Melon’ campaign that will get the fans at Dover involved. I can’t wait to see more watermelons at the track, and more people wearing seatbelts everywhere.”

Racing the Delaware Office of Highway/Safety #66 truck, Ross Chastain of Alva, Fl prepares to qualify in the Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Watermelons labeled with “Protect your Melon” and “#BuckleUpDE” are be in grocery stores and farmers markets throughout Delaware.

“My goal Sunday is to finish all the laps and minimize mistakes,” Chastain said. “Anything else will be a bonus. I’m not looking at it as an audition by any means, but it’s a chance for me to get some great experience.”

Keselowski to make donation to National Military Family Foundation

Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation announced Friday the organization will make a $20,000 donation to the National Military Family Foundation today at Dover International Speedway.

Keselowski, a driver in the Monster Energy Series, will present NMFA with the check at 12:30 p.m. behind his car hauler in the garage area.

“The mission of my foundation is to honor and assist those who have sacrificed for our country, specifically military service members and first responders,” Keselowski said. “I give (my wife) Paige a lot of credit for insisting that we work with organizations that support not only our soldiers, but their families as well.

“She recognized what the NMFA does to help wounded soldiers and their families prepare for the challenges faced during recovery, and as a result, we are honored to support this Operation Purple Healing Adventure.”

The donation will be used to support NMFA’s Operation Purple Healing Adventure (OPHA) in Parkton, North Carolina, later this year.

Healing Adventures are three-day camp experiences for families of the wounded, ill or injured. The retreats are designed to strengthen and connect families coping with a new “normal,” by providing them the opportunity to reconnect, build new memories, enjoy outdoor activities, and heal together.

Jeffrey Earnhardt announces new sponsor

Hulu announced at Dover on Friday that it will serve as the primary sponsor for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Monster Energy Series race team for 19 races this season.
The announcement comes on the heels of Hulu launching its new live TV service and premium streaming.

Earnhardt, the grandson of the late seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., will debut his green Hulu-sponsored No. 33 Chevrolet and racing suit in Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy Series race at Dover.

“Hulu is the future of entertainment and with their support our future is a lot brighter,” said Earnhardt. “I am extremely proud to wear the Hulu green and look forward to a long-term partnership and bringing NASCAR fans a service of great value with this sponsor.”

“I was a Hulu subscriber before becoming the Hulu driver so I’m really excited to represent their brand and spread the Hulu message.  Being able to watch live TV on your phone is incredible, especially during rain delays, and they have a giant library of movies, originals and shows that’s perfect for someone on the go.

Showing support for Autism Delaware

More than 50 drivers from across NASCAR’s three premier national touring series are showing their support for Autism Delaware’s mission this weekend at Dover International by displaying a special decal on their cars and trucks.

In total, 24 drivers from the Monster Energy Series, 23 drivers from the Xfinity Series and 12 drivers from the Camping World Truck Series will display the Autism Delaware decal on their cars and trucks.

Autism Delaware, a leader in the First State on autism awareness since its founding in 1998, is working to raise funds and awareness during Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

This will be the 11th consecutive year that Dover International Speedway’s spring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race has had a tie-in with the cause of autism awareness.

The Monster Mile will also host Autism Awareness Day at the Races in its enclosed grandstand for the sixth straight year on Sunday.

The event provides a sensory-friendly environment for children and families on the autism spectrum to enjoy the race and includes several driver and owner appearances.

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

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