On Saturday, the Sprint Cup Series held two practice sessions for a combined 40 minutes of on-track action. The first practice started just after 11:45 a.m. and lasted just over a half-hour. The second one began around 2:30 and lasted just 10 minutes until the rain washed out the rest of the session.
In the two practice sessions the Chase cars were quick in the crucial time that they had on track prior to the Chase cutoff to the Challenger Round on Sunday at Dover.
In the final practice session there were nine Chase drivers in the top 10 positions. The practice was paced by Kevin Harvick. The defending champ is in need of a victory in order to advance into the final 12. After two consecutive poor finishes, Harvick is 23 points behind 12th-place and is coming into a race track that he has yet to win at.
Carl Edwards is in a comfortable position advancing in the Chase. He currently sits 32 points ahead of 13th position in the standings. Edwards was second in each of the practice sessions on Friday and he won at Dover back in 2007.
The No. 41 of Kurt Busch was quick in each of the short practice sessions. Busch was seventh quickest in the first session and improved to fourth in final preparation for Sunday. The Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was fastest in the cars that made a 10 lap run. Busch is sitting comfortably in the seventh position in the standings, but lost a bunch of points on the final lap in New Hampshire last weekend.
A driver in need of a solid run on Sunday is Dale Earnhardt Jr. The No. 88 is one point to the good of making the Chase cutoff with drivers such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick preceding him. Earnhardt has improved at Dover in recent years and will need a good finish this weekend. He was fifth quick in final practice.
Brad Keselowski finished second in both races at Dover last season. In late May he came home in the 12th position. However, Keselowski was sixth fastest in each practice session on Saturday. The No. 2 team is sitting comfortably in eight position in the points, but if not for a late race penalty last weekend at New Hampshire, Keselowski may be locked into the Chase with a victory.
Jimmie Johnson will make his 500th start on Sunday at Dover. The 10-time winner at the Monster Mile was pleased with his car in the brief practice session on Saturday. The No. 48 is always the car to beat when NASCAR invades Dover, but this weekend he needs a good finish to advance and chase his seventh championship.
Then there are those Chase drivers who struggled off the truck.
In Jeff Gordon’s last race at Dover, he chased his car all around for the 40 minutes of practice and never seemed to find a solution to the problem. After being a disappointing 33rd in opening practice, Gordon finished final practice 27th, running just 24 laps before Sunday’s 400-miler. Gordon is 10th in the championship and has found more speed as of late, but with an average finish on Sunday, it might not advance him into the second round.
Ryan Newman was 18th in the first practice and 22nd in the final practice. Since the new Chase format was implemented last season, Newman has been the one to take advantage of it the most. He is consistent, and currently sits sixth in the standings, just needing an average day to advance.
There have been a couple of non-Chase drivers who have unloaded very fast off the truck.
Kasey Kahne is in desperate need of something to go his way. In 28 races this season, the veteran driver has just seven top 10 finishes. Kahne has had a very lackluster past few months as he hasn’t performed up to expectations with Hendrick Motorsports. However, Dover has always been one of Kahne’s better tracks and he paced the opening session on Saturday. In final practice he was third fastest.
Much like Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. needs a solid finish on Sunday. He has struggled in 2015, but is quick this weekend at Dover. He is looking for his first-career victory and he was just outside of the top 10 in each practice session Saturday.
The third race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be a unique race as the 43 teams have had little track time so far in the weekend. It will be crucial for some teams to overachieve in order to make the Contender Round including some of NASCAR’s biggest names.