Dover so far: What we've learned through 78 laps completed at the 'Monster Mile'

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Mother Nature struck after 68 laps in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover Motor Speedway, pushing the conclusion to the 400-miler to Monday.

The field ran 10 laps under caution prior to bringing the 36 cars to pit road for the red flag on Lap 78. Kyle Larson is the race leader, with Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron rounding out the top five.

Though not even one-quarter of the race is complete, there were still some key takeaways on Sunday.

Editor’s note: The race will resume Monday at noon ET on FS1 (MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Denny Hamlin pacing the field

After starting second, it took Hamlin 19 laps to get the lead from Chris Buescher. But once the No. 11 car got out front, he set sail.

Sean Gardner | Getty Images
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Hamlin went on to lead the next 55 laps, which is more than he’d led in the first 10 races of the season combined (49). Thus far in 2022, the No. 11 Toyota has just one top-10 finish, coming via his win at Richmond.

RELATED: See the running order

Throughout Hamlin‘s career, he‘s struggled at Dover, at one point being among his worst tracks on the schedule. In recent years, however, the Virginia native has eight top-10 finishes in the last 11 races at the Monster Mile, including his lone win at Dover in 2020.

When the race restarts on Monday, Hamlin will be listed eighth, having pitted for four tires under the caution for rain.

Chris Buescher staying up front after winning pole

After winning his first career NASCAR Busch Light Pole Award on Saturday, Buescher’s stock rose. That continued into the beginning of the race Sunday, as the No. 17 Ford paced the field for the opening 18 laps. In 233 Cup starts (including Sunday), it‘s the second-most laps the Texan has ever led in a Cup race, trailing only Homestead-Miami from last year (57).

When Buescher lost the lead to Hamlin on Lap 19, he quickly dropped to fourth, behind Larson and Elliott, but stayed in the top five. Like the No. 11 car, the No. 17 team also brought the pole sitter to pit road under the caution for rain.

On Monday, Buescher will restart from 13th position, losing a few spots on pit road from the first pit stall. Buescher‘s best Dover finish is 14th in 2020, though he won an Xfinity Series race at the Monster Mile in 2015. Keep an eye on him.

Big teams struggling early

Saturday‘s group practice sessions were eventful, to say the least. Many drivers, including Byron and Tyler Reddick, went for wild rides.

Some of the series’ big teams continued to struggle in the opening stint of Sunday’s race. With a competition caution at Lap 40, Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer had already lost a lap to the leader. As the yellow flag flew, Austin Dillon was next to go one lap down, with Joey Logano and Byron just ahead of the No. 3 car.

During the competition caution, Logano came over the radio and said his No. 22 Ford was out of control and felt like he was going to wreck. Fortunately for Briscoe, he was the free pass recipient.

Making a strategy call to get track position, Byron will restart fifth on Monday, with Dillon and Logano mired down in 26th and 27th, respectively. Briscoe made his way up to 24th.

We’ll see if these drivers, and others, can turn it around on Monday.

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