Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DOVER, DE – Four drivers did not make NASCAR Cup Series qualifying laps on Saturday. William Byron, rookies Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton and Josh Bilicki all had incidents during practice and will go to back-up cars for the race.
Byron, a two-race winner in 2022, had an incident in the opening minutes of his practice session and hit the wall hard enough that his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team immediately knew it would need to prepare a back-up car. He will start 33rd among the 36 cars.
“Just hate it for our guys more than anything,’’ said Byron, who is ranked third in the championship standings.
“Have to pull out a back-up car obviously. The primary was probably going to be really fast and I know our back-up car can be just as fast and we can still go and try to win on Sunday. But just a little bit over-confident on my end (in the accident).’’
Gilliland and Bilicki made contact with the wall early in the opening practice. Byron and Burton had their trouble in the second practice session. Tyler Reddick, spun twice in that session but did not need to go to a second car. He will start the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing 26th.
BACK HOME AGAIN FOR TRUEX
Dover Motor Speedway is a special place to Martin Truex Jr. It’s the New Jersey native’s “home track” and also the place where the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion fittingly earned his first premier series victory in 2007.
Truex, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, joins teammate Kyle Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick as three-time Dover race winners – most among active drivers in the series.
“Having experience around this track brings confidence to know what you might want is important, but we only have 20 minutes (of practice) to figure that out – figure out how to get that in the car and not have a lot of ability to change the big things,’’ said Truex, who qualified 18th.
Two-time former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was asked about comments he made last week saying he was unsure of his future with the Joe Gibbs Racing team. He is in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the team and last week deferred reporters’ questions about his status to the team.
Asked on Saturday if he’s had any more talk with JGR in the last week, Busch said, “yeah, there were some discussions and such,’’ adding, “There is nothing to elaborate on, it’s all good.’’
Busch, a three-time Dover winner, will start the No. 18 JGR Toyota 10th.
ROSS CHASTAIN OFF TO A GREAT START
Ross Chastain has earned his first two NASCAR Cup Series race victories in just the past five weeks – a career first win at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas’ road course on March 27 and answered it with a win on the series’ biggest track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last weekend.
Both Chastain’s wins in the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet came on last lap passes. It’s been quite a season debut for Chastain with the Trackhouse Racing team. And Chastain, who had a reputation for a more aggressive racing style earlier in this career, says he’s learned from that and made an effort to race differently.
“It’s all about being there at the end,’’ said Chastain, who is ninth in the championship. “There were opportunities in both of those races to take ourselves out and it didn’t happen. Now there have been other races this year that small mistakes added up to us not winning and we had the same opportunity to.
“I’m not perfect. I’m human. There’s mistakes and we’ve had a great start to the season and stats look great, but there’s mistakes in there that I’ve also learned from this year. Continue to evolve that is tough. I mean, this is the best group of race car drivers in the world, in my opinion. Any mistake and they exploit it.’’
Only one car had issues during pre-qualifying inspection for Sunday’s race. The No. 42 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Ty Dillon failed inspection twice, costing the team pit selection. One crew member was also ejected for the race.