Time for new Monster Mile champ? Promising drivers seek first Dover victory

AAA 400 Drive For Autism pole sitter Kyle Larson sits in his #42 car before the final Monster Cup practice at Dover International Speedway on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The Miles the Monster trophy could find a new suitor.

A slew of drivers who have never won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway have shown some considerable speed in the leadup to today’s AAA 400 Driver for Autism.

The green flag drops at 2 p.m.

Kyle Larson won the pole on Friday. Larson led the most laps in this race last spring but was passed by Jimmie Johnson on a late restart with four laps to go and had to settle for second.

Larson has been one of the fastest Chevrolets this season as the manufacturer has struggled to keep up with the Fords and Toyotas after switching to a new Camaro for 2018.

But Larson thinks the car his crew brought to Dover is as fast as the one they had last season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looks through his windshield before the final Monster Cup practice at Dover International Speedway on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“Our team hasn’t once been stressed out about the new Camaro,” Larson said. “I don’t know what other people and teams are battling. I think balance-wise I feel exactly the same as what I did last year. It hasn’t been an issue to us. I feel like speed-wise, we are close to where we were.”

Larson posted the fourth-fastest lap in practice on Saturday. Aric Almirola was fastest followed by Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer had the best 15-lap average while Ryan Blaney was second. Kevin Harvick had the best 20-lap average while Blaney was second and Almirola third.

Daniel Suarez was fourth-best for 20-lap averages with Bowyer fifth and Paul Menard sixth.

Besides Harvick, none of those drivers have ever won a Cup race at the Monster Mile.

Elliott and Suarez have never won a cup race, period. Elliott came close to his first win in October at Dover, but was passed by Kyle Busch on the second-to-last lap.

Elliott is one of those Chevrolet’s who is hoping for more speed.

“We have made some improvements and some gains coming into the weekend that we hope improve on Sunday,” Elliott said. “Will that improve us to the point where we can go dominate the race? I don’t know, I hope so, but I think it’s more present timing as to how your performance is more so than past history at a race track.”

Of course, no one should count out Elliott’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports in Johnson who has won more races at Dover than any other driver in history.

Johnson holds 11 victories at Dover, and this track could be the perfect remedy to cure a 33-race losing streak — the longest of his career.

“We’ll get it close, and history shows that,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we get it perfect and we can have the day that we really want to have and get back to victory lane. But it does take a little pressure off me knowing that this is my best track and knowing that this is my favorite track.”

Some previous winners and favorites will also be starting up front though.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Dover in 2015, starts second. Martin Truex Jr., a two-time winner at the Monster Mile will start third while Busch is fourth.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, another driver looking for his first win at Dover, rounds out the top-five.

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