Of the tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series where Kyle Larson is the likeliest to have success, it’s a shock that he hasn’t found any as of yet at the Dover International Speedway.
Topping Friday’s final practice session for Sunday’s Drydene 400 with a lap of 162.705, Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet looks to be fast enough to better his record of five top-fives and eight top-10s in 11 starts, including two runner-ups and two third-place finishes.
One good reason for Larson’s consistency at Dover is that it’s a track where the driver actually drives the car. Larson is in his element when racing a track that requires more out of the driver like a bullring or a road course; there’s a reason he’s as prolific as he is in sprint cars.
However, Dover is a fast bullring. It’s got a short-track spirit with the speed of an intermediate track, and that leads to drivers getting in trouble easily. The adequate mixture of speed and driver is right in Larson’s comfort zone, not to mention he knows just how pressing it is he gets to victory lane soon. Last year he made it into the Round of 12 on a bonzai run at Charlotte only to drop out with a quickness following Kansas, echoing his failed 2017 Playoff bid.
But Dover has been kind to Larson, which is all the more reason for the No. 42 crew to be optimistic heading into Sunday. In 2017 he dominated both events, leading 378 of the season’s 806 laps run at the speedway. He didn’t seal the deal, but top-fives in both events told that they were among the strongest on the track. Overall, Larson holds an average finish of eighth at the one-mile speedway.
After a dismal 2018 season though, winning at Dover is a must for Larson. He hasn’t won since Richmond in the Fall of ’17, and a return trip to Victory lane would be a great way to validate his 2019 campaign. He’s had the strength of his ’17 season along with the luck of his ’18 season, so it’s imperative that the No. 42 solidifies his Round of 8 spot early on, since Talladega is next on the calendar with Kansas coming after.
Without a win, Larson would be going into the midway point of the Playoffs at Talladega at a high risk of once again missing the next round. Larson holds an average finish of 20.6 at the 2.66-mile superspeedway with a best finish of sixth in the Fall 2016 event, and holds three DNFs including a spectacular tumble in the Spring event of this year. He holds some strong finishes at Talladega and Daytona, but he hasn’t established himself as a pack racer.
Meanwhile, his luck at Kansas is closer to Dover than it is to Talladega, although it is still cause for concern. He holds three top-fives and five top-10s in 11 starts on the 1.5-mile speedway, but he also has three DNFs. He holds an average finish of 16.6 at Kansas, meaning that Larson may very well consider it as much a Wild Card event as Talladega.
Not only is Larson needing to seal the deal and make Dover his 2019 championship statement, he is long overdue for a win at the speedway in the first place. Chad Johnston has done his best to bring success to the CGR No. 42, but if Larson doesn’t go from consistent to contender this year it may be time for a personnel overhaul within that camp.