Poor weather in the area forced the cancellation of NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Saturday morning at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway. The series implemented a competitive metric to set the grid for Sunday’s Wurth 400 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with the pole position going to last week’s Talladega (Ala.) race winner, Richard Childress Racing driver, Kyle Busch.
The two-time series champion Busch – a three-time Dover race winner – will start his No. 8 RCR Chevrolet on the front row alongside the series’ current championship leader, Christopher Bell, in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“I’ll take it - starting up front, track position race, number one pit box - that’s super good to have here at Dover,’’ said Busch, whose Chevy was only 29th fastest in Saturday’s practice.
Ryan Blaney (No. 12 Penske Racing) and Brad Keselowski (No. 6 Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing) will start their Ford Mustangs on the second row, followed by the Fords of Chris Buescher (No. 17 RFK Racing) and Chase Briscoe (No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing). Of note, Keselowski was the fastest in practice.
Tyler Reddick (No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota) and two-time 2023 winner William Byron (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) will start from the fourth row along with this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet), and defending Dover race winner Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) rounding out the Top-10.
The starting lineup was set using a combination of metrics including the championship standings, a driver’s finish in the last race (Talladega) and the fastest lap recorded in the last race.
That meant the cancellation of qualifying was especially tough news for Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson, who had been second fastest in his No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet during opening practice but will now start 20th after a tough finish and last lap accident at Talladega.
“My car obviously has speed so I’m happy about that,’’ said Larson, who was second fastest in practice and has two wins already this season.
“I’d have loved to have the mist go away and us qualify to start a little better and have better pit selection, but either way I think our car is good enough to come from wherever in the field. Our pit crew has been doing a great job this year so wherever we start, we’ll be fine.”
*Hendrick Motorsports officials spoke to the media Saturday morning about the upcoming three-week absence for driver Alex Bowman, who was injured in a sprint car crash this week. Team president Jeff Andrews said despite the injury earlier this season to Elliott – who broke a leg snowboarding – and now the incident with Bowman, the team does not – at this time - expect to change its rules and ask its drivers not to participate in these kinds of outside activities.
“Those schedules are reviewed and the message from Mr. Hendrick is ‘I don’t want to stop those things, but be careful, understand what’s the most important thing and the most important thing for Hendrick Motorsports are the results here on Sundays,’ ‘’ Andrews said.
“So, we’ll always keep that the top of the list. We may take a look at this. If this happens again, we will have to. But for right now there’s not going to be any changes to our policy, other than to be cognizant that the most important thing is the results on Sunday in the Cup Series.’’
Josh Berry, who drives the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, has been tabbed to drive Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet. At this point, the team expects Bowman to miss at least the next three weeks after suffering a back injury competing in a sprint car at Iowa’s 34 Raceway on Tuesday night.
“I think this year so far we’ve done a good job of just reacting to whatever is thrown at us and this will be another thing we look back on and we’ll react accordingly,’’ said Blake Harris, crew chief on Bowman’s Chevrolet.
“We’ve got full support of Alex and want him to get well and as soon as he’s healthy, we’ll plug him back in and keep digging.’’
*Berry’s NASCAR Cup Series start this week at Dover Motor Speedway marks his sixth on the season for the Hendrick Motorsports team after filling in five races for Elliott in March-April. Berry has a good history with Dover. He is the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series winner at the one-mile track and made the very first of his seven career NASCAR Cup Series starts there in 2021 with Spire Motorsports.
In five races filling in for Elliott this season, Berry earned two Top-10 finishes, including a runner-up showing in Richmond, Va., where he led his first career NASCAR Cup Series race laps (10).
“Cup racing’s hard and these guys are great, they are the best of the best racing at these tracks,’’ Berry said. “So, I don’t think it’s really fair to come in and say I have high expectations. My expectations are of myself, which is to give the best effort I can each and every week, to be prepared to drive the race car and do the best job I can in the race car to limit my mistakes and be there at the end of the race.’’
*Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, is the defending winner of Sunday’s Wurth 400. This weekend marks his third race since returning to competition after suffering a broken leg in early March. So far in those starts, he has earned finishes of 10th (at Martinsville, Va.) and 12th (at Talladega, Ala.).
After receiving a waiver to participate in the Playoffs if he qualifies, the 2020 series champion Elliott knows he needs to score a victory to ensure his title run. And Dover has been a particularly good venue for him. He has nine Top-5 finishes in 12 starts, including a pair of wins (2018 and 2022).
“It’s certainly an opportunity,’’ Elliott said of securing that first win of the year on Sunday. “I think when we show up properly any given week can be a good opportunity for us, frankly. Certainly, this has been a good track for us. Does it guarantee tomorrow’s going to go good? No, but I certainly hope so.
“These races, a lot can happen, and a lot can happen out of your control. You’ve got to put it together on the racetrack, on the pit box, on pit road. Everything has to be perfect and that’s a lot to put together. I think it’s a bit unfair to throw that all on one day and bet the house on it. That’s just unrealistic, but I think we can go and have a good run here just like we can go and have a good run next week or the next 15 after that if we show up and do our part.’’
*Last week’s Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway winner, Busch, has three previous victories on Dover’s “Monster Mile” high banks, and having earned two trophies already in 2023 with his new team, Richard Childress Motorsports, the two-time former NASCAR Cup Series champion says there’s definitely an uptick at the organization.
One of the RCR team’s NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers, Austin Hill has a series best three wins and leads the championship standings. There’s been a lot of celebrating for the team in 2023.
“I think morale is high,’’ said Busch, who drives the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet. “The Cup shop has done a tremendous job here early in the season. I think Richard was in victory lane four weeks in a row (counting Xfinity and Cup series wins).
“It was nice to finally get a Cup Series speedway win for me and to have that be a part of RCR with their legacy and history at Talladega was really cool. I know all the guys are pumped up and everybody back at the shop is excited. That’s two wins for us so far and we’re hoping for more obviously.’’