The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Dover International Speedway this weekend for race No. 29 of the season, the Citizen Soldier 400. The 400-lap race is also the final event in the ‘Round of 16’ in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. When the checkered flag falls on Sunday, four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention.
Three rounds of group qualifying are scheduled later on this afternoon. There are currently 40 drivers on the roster so no eliminations will need to be made. Everyone will take to the track in round one, then 24 cars will advance to round two based on their fastest lap times. The top 12 will then run for the pole and the highest starting spots on the grid.
Dover International Speedway is located in Dover, Del. and owned by Dover Motorsports Inc. From 1969 to 1994, the track known as the ‘Monster Mile’ was made of asphalt. However, since 1995, it has been a concrete surface. The four turns feature a 24-degree banking while the straights measure at nine degrees.
Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner. One year ago, the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet needed to get a victory to advance to the ‘Round of 12’. He got the job done by leading 355 of 400 laps. This season, Harvick has already nailed down a berth into the next Chase round with a win in New Hampshire a week ago but he also has a shot to go two-for-two at Dover.
“Dover is the racetrack where you feel the sensation of speed more than anything,” Harvick said in a Stewart-Haas Racing advance. “ It’s a place where you drop off into the corner and slam into a lot of banking and then, as you come out of the corner, it’s kind of like jumping out of a hole and up onto the straightaway. It’s a really fun place to race. You feel that sensation of speed and you can be really aggressive.”
With the New Hampshire win, Harvick moved up to second in the Chase standings with 2071 points. His season statistics include two other wins at Phoenix in March and Bristol in August as well as 14 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes.
Matt Kenseth is looking for a sweep. The No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT Toyota driver led 48 laps to win this year’s spring Dover race, the AAA 400. Kenseth currently sits fifth in the playoff standings with 2078 points.
“I feel good. I feel like our performance is good,” Kenseth said in a Joe Gibbs Racing advance. “You never know what’s going to happen in these races. You never know where you’re going to finish, but certainly I feel like as a group our performance has been really, really strong all year. We’ve just got to execute and get the finishes, try to finish as good as we’re running.”
Kenseth’s other win came at the New Hamsphire 301 back in July. So far this season, the Wisconsin native also recorded five top fives and 13 top 10’s.
Martin Truex Jr. is currently leading the Chase standings with 2086 points after securing a spot in the ‘Round of 12’ with a win at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicago a couple weeks ago. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota for the Colorado race team almost made it two in a row a week ago when he led 141 laps during the Bad Boy Off Road 300. However, he finished seventh when all was said and done.
“We had a great car and led the most laps (141) in New Hampshire, but the cautions late in the race didn’t play in our favor,” Truex Jr. said in a Furniture Row Racing advance. “Our goal is to win the championship. “I truly believe that we have what it takes to capture NASCAR’s ultimate prize. But we have to go out and get it done and hopefully not have something beyond our control stop our forward momentum.”
The race team may be located in the west but for Truex Jr., a native out of New Jersey, Dover is a home game. It is also where he got his first win in the Cup series back in 2007.
“We want to win every single weekend, it doesn’t matter where we go, but Dover is special to me,” Truex Jr. said. “It’s been a while since I won there and a victory heading into the second round of the Chase would give us added momentum.”
Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher are currently on the bubble as far as moving on to the ‘Round of 12’. In order advance, any of the four drivers would need to pull off a win.
In 2015, McMurray made the Chase but was eliminated after this race. The No. 1 Credit One Chevrolet driver will have to improve on his AAA 400 finish of 21st if he wants to advance.
“Last year was a lot of fun, getting to race with the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and knowing that I had to finish ahead of him in order to advance to the next round,” McMurray explained during this morning’s media availability at Dover. “He was ahead on one restart and I’d be ahead on the next, so that was a fun battle. As far as this year, you don’t know until you get on the track. You don’t know the circumstances, how they’re going to play out. I think the Chase hasn’t had the drama that it normally does to this point, so if you’re a guy on the outside looking in trying to advance to the next round you’re hoping that it’s a fairly dramatic race and that something big happens with somebody up front that’s going to shake it up a little. It can happen for sure here.”
Although Dillon is currently on the bubble, and needs to improve on his 33rd-place finish in the spring race, he is still looking forward to the elimination round at Dover.
“I'm excited to go to Dover International Speedway. I had a good run going there and we had a brake failure last time,” the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet explained in a Team Chevy advance. “We've changed brakes since then and it's been really good since that point. I'm looking forward to getting back to Dover and proving what we can accomplish. It's a tough track but I enjoy the challenge."
Ranked no. 16 in the playoff standings, Buescher, the driver of the No. 34 CSX/Play It Safe Ford cannot play it safe.
“We look at Dover as the last race of this round and we really don’t have anything to lose,” Buescher said in a Ford Racing advance. “I’m excited to get on track. This should be a place where we can really have a good run and see if we can advance to that next round. It’s going to be tough at this point, but this is probably our best race track out of this round, so I’m excited to get going.”
Stewart is currently 15th in the Chase standings with 2046 points and is in his final year of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. A suspension problem in the spring race resulted in a 34th-place finish, which the 2013 spring Dover winner also needs to improve on.
Qualifying for the Citizen Soldier 400 is scheduled to take place later this afternoon at 3:40 PM ET. The race will kick off Sunday at 2:00 PM ET. NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM Channel 90 have all the coverage.