Length: 1 Mile
Banking: 9 degrees on straightaways, 24 degrees on turns
The first elimination race of The Chase took place this past Sunday with the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway, as the original 16 chase drivers faced paring down to 12. And with a crowded chase bubble heading into the race, it was anyone’s guess as to how it would all play out.
Not only did the scenario of who would advance to Round 2 give cause for speculation, so did the weather which has proven to be a thorn in the side of the NASCAR series this summer. Once again, ongoing rain created scheduling problems that reduced practice time and eliminated qualifying, causing the starting grid to be decided based on owner points. This put the #2 Penske driver of Brad Keselowski in the pole position. However, he wasn’t able to hold onto the lead and thus began multiple lead changes as the race progressed. This included defending champion Kyle Busch as well as Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson looked strong throughout the race and appeared to have the win in sight until a pit road error occurred on Lap 277 when a crew member hopped over the wall too soon. The penalty of a pass through pit road caused Johnson to fall a lap down and he wasn’t able to recover.
In the end, the day belonged to Martin Truex Jr, who celebrated his second win in the first round The Chase and his fourth of the season.
“We’re not messing around, I guess,” Truex said, understating the case for his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. “I don’t know — what else can you say? We’re here to get it done, and, golly I’m telling you just the best bunch of guys you could ever ask for. It’s just amazing to drive their race cars and do what we were able to do. I’m just ecstatic.”
Chase drivers dominated the top nine in the finishing order, with Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin running third through ninth, respectively.
All nine drivers advanced to the Chase’s Round of 12, along with Carl Edwards (14th on Sunday), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kevin Harvick, who blew a tire on Lap 34, went to the garage for repairs and finished 37th, one lap down. However, his win at New Hampshire guarantees him a spot in Round 2
Jamie McMurray and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson had no such insurance policy, and both were bounced from the Chase on Sunday. Larson suffered ignition problems early on and later scraped the Turn 3 wall on Lap 182 to cause the third of four cautions.
Larson finished 25th, six laps down and ceded his spot in the Round of 12 to Austin Dillon, whose strong, steady performance ensured three more races as a championship contender.
After complaining of a drive-train vibration in his No. 1 Chevrolet, McMurray saw his worst fears realized when his car erupted in a huge plume of smoke on Lap 193, causing the final caution. McMurray retired in 40th place, joining Chris Buescher, who was never a factor in the Round of 16, on the Chase sidelines.
Round 2 begins next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.