Alex Bowman wins NASCAR race at Dover as Hendrick Motorsports sweeps top four spots
DOVER, Del. – The statue of Miles the Monster had a big red mask covering his nose and mouth, showing proper masking etiquette as he menacingly held a race car in his left hand.
But Miles the Monster could have shed the mask had he just shuffled about 20 yards over to his right to the walk-up vaccination tent at Dover International Speedway. Then he could have gotten the one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, gone inside the grandstand to watch the Drydene 400.
If he did, he would have seen Alex Bowman lead the last 96 laps race to win after teammate Kyle Larson had dominated most of the first 300 laps.
Alex Bowman celebrates winning the Dryden 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. (Photo: Chris Szagola, AP)
Bowman did it in the No. 48 car that Jimmie Johnson rode to victory lane 11 times at Dover International Speedway, the most of any driver.
"This is another really good place for us," Bowman said. "It feels right to put the No. 48 back in Victory Lane here after how many races that this car has won here."
In fact, it was a dominant day for Bowman's team, Hendrick Motorsports, as a whole with drivers Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron following Bowman as the team swept the top four spots, the first time a team finished 1-2-3-4 in a race since Roush Fenway Racing did it in 2005. Sunday marked only the fourth top-four sweep by a single team in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Rick Hendrick’s cars go 1-2-3-4 at Dover. A legendary and historic day for a NASCAR [email protected]_Bowman | @TeamHendrickpic.twitter.com/Qsy8trqIf6
Moments after he smoked the field, Bowman channeled fictional goofball NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby as flames simmered under the left rear of his Chevy on the start-finish line.
“Help me Tom Cruise, I’m on fire,” he said, quoting a popular line from “Talladega Nights.”
Bowman – who described himself as a “race car driver slash weirdo” – won for the second time this season and fourth time in his career. He also passed 1,000 laps led in his career.
“Help me, Tom Cruise. I’m on fire.”@Alex_Bowman and @TeamHendrick smoke the competition in Dover. pic.twitter.com/m1kaGpsWak
Bowman, in fact, said he texted Johnson before a race here a few years ago because he was struggling at Dover, both before and joining Hendrick Motorsports.
"I asked him what he does, how he approaches this place, what kind of lines he runs," Bowman said. "I just stuck to that, and tried to run like Jimmie did, run the Jimmie Johnson line, and just be tight against the black, be super disciplined, super patient.
"We’ve been good here ever since. So to win here with the 48 car is special, and to do it with tips that Jimmie taught me is pretty cool."
The milestones kept coming at the Monster Mile. Hendrick Motorsports won its 267th career NASCAR race, one shy of the team record held by Petty Enterprises.
“I want to be the guy that get those wins for Mr. H,” Bowman said.
Not so fast, said Larson.
“I hope I’m the driver to do it,” Larson said.
On Sunday, Bowman spoiled Larson's dominant run when he beat the No. 5 off pit road and led the final 98 laps.
“Their team just did a good job on getting control on the pit stop,” Larson said. “I feel like I did everything I could.”
To the No. 48 pit crew …
… this one’s for you! @Alex_Bowman and @TeamHendrick get it done at the @MonsterMile! 🏁 pic.twitter.com/wcsEqmRNY0
There were about 20,000 fans in attendance on a sun-splashed afternoon, or about 40% of the capacity of about 54,000. NASCAR doesn't release official attendance figures.
Still, the total Sunday represents, by far, the largest gathering of people in Delaware since either Firefly in June of 2019 or a University of Delaware football game from that fall.
And the lure of a vaccine made it even more enjoyable for those who stopped by the tent.
"I was coming to the race anyway, so I figured I’d get the shot," Philadelphia resident Scott Keenan said. "I wasn’t going to take off work to get the vaccine, and this was easy."
The grandstand along the main straightaway was mostly full, with more spacing in the stands along Turns 1 and 4.
Few fans were wearing masks after the CDC announced last week that those who have had vaccines can go maskless outdoors. The state of Delaware will lift its mask mandate this Friday.
The speedway certainly qualified as a crowded outdoor setting as fans walked along Victory Plaza, visiting the merchandise haulers and sitting fairly close together in the grandstand.
For many it was another sign of a return of normalcy after a pandemic that has lasted for 16 months and claimed nearly 600,000 lives in the United States.
"It felt close to normal, so I was definitely glad to hear the crowd yelling and screaming before the race and afterwards too," said Larson, who led a race-high 263 laps. "Things are starting to feel like they’re getting back to normal. I think we all love not having to wear masks throughout the garage area when we're outside.
"So it’s getting normal again and we’re getting the fans back, which is great."
Hendrick Motorsports is the first team to finish 1-2-3-4 since Jack Roush in 2005. HMS led 382 of the 400 laps. Hendrick Motorsports has 267 victories, one shy of the NASCAR record held by Petty Enterprises. Petty Enterprises last competed in 2008,
Aric Almirola’s woeful season continued at Dover when his No. 10 Ford slammed into the wall with less than 100 laps left in the race. Almirola crashed out for the second straight week and the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has only one top-10 finish in 2021.
“My body’s hurting,” Almirola said. “It doesn’t want to take any more hard hits like that.”
DOVER AND OUT
Dover wrapped its only NASCAR weekend of the season. The track traditionally held two NASCAR weekends but moved one race date to Nashville Superspeedway. Nashville will have a Cup race on June 20. The 1.33-mile concrete track was built in 2001 by Dover Motorsports and hosted NASCAR and IndyCar events until 2011. Nashville Superspeedway held Xfinity and Truck events, as well as IndyCar races from 2001 until 2011. Dover hosted one race weekend in 1969 and 1970 and then held two races every season from 1971 to 2020.
NASCAR heads to Texas and the Circuit of the Americas for a road course race. COTA joined Indianapolis and Road America in rural Wisconsin as new road course events on a 2021 schedule that already included Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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