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The Backstretch Blog's Race Day: AAA 400 at Dover

DOVER, DE - MAY 05: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks to his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 5, 2018 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Are you afraid of monsters? They might not admit it, but the top drivers in NASCAR are certainly at least a little apprehensive as they take on Dover International this afternoon, the track nicknamed the Monster Mile. And with good reason.

"It's very challenging – one of the most challenging on the circuit just from a standpoint of how it can bite you, how hard you have to attack all the time and, you know, the consequences when you mess up are pretty bad here," said Martin Truex, Jr. "It’s definitely a difficult track in that mindset. For me coming here initially, it took a lot to – it took a while to get up the nerve to get to where I needed to make the car. It was like, okay, I keep going and driving harder and harder and harder and the car still wants me to go faster, you know? So once you figure that out, from there it’s really all just about through the years adapting to changing race cars, changing rules, tires changing, the track changing as it ages and just continuing to try to stay on top of all those things I think is the biggest challenge now. But certainly in the race, 400 laps here is quite a challenge."

Truex is one of seven former Dover winners in today's race. But no one has tamed the mister more than Jimmie Johnson. He has 11 career victories at the Monster Mile. To get number 12 today couldn't come at a better time, his team has struggled so far in 2018.

“I can relax a little bit more coming to this race track," said Johnson. "With it being my best track and the love I have for this place, I’m always excited to come, but trying to get the No. 48 car back into Victory Lane, I can take a little pressure of myself here knowing that the rhythm-style and the way you drive this track and the set-up for the car. We’ll get it close, and history shows that. Hopefully we get it perfect and we can have the day that we really want to have and get back to Victory Lane. But it does take a little pressure off me knowing that this is my best track and knowing that this is my favorite track.”

Johnson will have to come from the middle of the pack as he starts today's race 19th. Kyle Larson will start on the pole, as he too looks for his first win of 2018.

“We’ve always qualified good here and I had yet to get a pole,” said Larson. “I’ve raced well here but have yet to get a win. Maybe we’ll get both out of the way this weekend.”

Kevin Harvick, Truex, Kyle Bush and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. round out the rest of the top 5 starters.

Tennessee native Trevor Bayne starts 22nd in his final race before he starts sharing his ride with Matt Kenseth. Virginia natives Denny Hamlin and Gray Gaulding start 10th and 35th respectively.

The green flag is set to drop at 2:09 on the AAA 400 for Autism. You can watch the race on FOX Sports 1.

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