Dover International Speedway hosts this weekend's FedEx 400 for Autism Speaks. This is the first race of two this season at the concrete oval in New Hampshire. Dover International Speedway is known as the "Monster Mile," and for good reason. It's like a super-sized Bristol Motor Speedway, with similar banking and track surface all in a one-mile oval. Dover has a short track feel, but produces the high 160-plus mph speeds of the larger tracks on the circuit. The high speeds are due to the 24 degree banking in all turns and the extreme grip that the concrete paved surface produces. It's a lightning fast track, and it makes for some exciting racing. As many drivers have shown in the past, it takes a good balance of aggression and patience to tame the monster. It's this balance that the drivers will need to tap if they hope to continue good starts to the season or turn around current slumps. This is race number 11 of the season, so urgency to better one's position in the driver standings will pick up the pace at DIS.
Since this is our first race of the season at Dover, we need to check in briefly with the loop stats from this high-banked oval. Current trends at this track should hold pretty true to form this weekend. Dover has favored one stable in particular in recent seasons, and as you will see below the drivers of Roush Fenway Racing have a monopoly on the top of the chart. The trio of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards has led close to 26 percent of all the laps raced at DIS in the last five years. That's a pretty remarkable feat for drivers in the same camp. The loop stats in the table below cover the last six years or 12 races at Dover International Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUAL. PASSES||# of FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||DRIVER RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||16.8||223||183||222||2,442||88.4|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||21.9||130||72||3||1,526||77.2|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||21.1||149||115||1||1,479||74.3|
Dover International Speedway had been one of Roush Fenway Racing's most successful venues in recent years with Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth combining for four victories from 2005 to 2008. While those Ford teams have remained strong at the one-mile oval, Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports have put a dent in that stellar record the last couple seasons. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion tamed the Monster Mile and held off the Roush trio not once, but three times in the last two years. Johnson captured both victories at Dover in 2009, and he won here in September of last year when NASCAR last visited the New Hampshire speedway. Only Joe Gibbs Racing has put forth enough performance to mention in the same breath as the Roush drivers and defending champion Johnson. Kyle Busch won at the concrete oval in this event in 2008 and 2010, so the spring race at Dover International Speedway appeals to the Joe Gibbs Racing star. Considering how he's been heating up here of late, it may be time for Busch to have impact yet again at the Monster Mile. A good sleeper to keep an eye on this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. The Michael Waltrip Racing star is a one-time winner at DIS and he sports stellar loop stats at the Delaware speedway. Considering that Truex led 63 laps at the steeply banked and similarly configured Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season, he and the No. 56 Toyota team could make a push for their first win of the season this weekend. We'll outline the drivers who will likely dominate and a few others about to make surprise runs at Dover International Speedway on Sunday in the FedEx 400.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
The winner of three of the last four Dover races and a total of six career victories at the Monster Mile has to be the top contender entering this event. Johnson loves the high-speed mixing bowl in Delaware, as his over 1,600 career laps led attests. If by some chance Johnson isn't in the running for the win in the closing laps, his near 50 percent Top 5 rate at the one-mile oval is a very reassuring statistic that he won't fall far into the field.
It's no secret that Edwards loves concrete ovals. The results show it in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series statistics. Edwards enters this event leading the championship standings and racing well each week. All it is going to take to get his first win of the season is a little luck. The one-time Dover winner was good enough to challenge for the win at Darlington last week, and he'll be in the mix again this Sunday afternoon. Edwards finished eighth and fifth at DIS last season, so he's almost always racing with the leaders here.
The Roush Fenway Racing excellence that we expect to see every time we visit the Monster Mille should be apparent in the No. 17 team this weekend. Kenseth is racing well in 2011, and his career numbers at this oval are nothing short of impressive. He has one career victory at the high-banked track and a near 42 percent Top 5 rate at Dover. Kenseth has five Top-5 finishes in his last six trips to the concrete oval, and over 700 career laps led at this facility. We can't think of a better "stealth" contender for the FedEx 400 than Kenseth.
Once again Busch will lead the Joe Gibbs Racing assault on victory lane at a Sprint Cup oval. He picked up his second victory of the season a couple weeks ago at Richmond, and it seems the No. 18 team is gathering steam for a big hot streak. Busch is a two-time winner at Dover International Speedway, and he sports a 50 percent Top 5 rate at the track. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota led over 170 laps in the two events at DIS last season and he won this event one year ago.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning
The Monster Mile is not one of the tracks where Busch sports eye-popping numbers, but he does have three Top-5 finishes in his last four trips to Dover, Delaware. The highly banked tracks have been kind to the No. 22 Dodge team of late. Despite a mini-slump entering this weekend, Busch finished a respectable seventh at Bristol a few weeks ago. If there's a weekend for the Penske Racing star to rebound, it's this Sunday afternoon in the FedEx 400.
The No. 16 team trying to build some momentum, and right now we're in the middle of a great part of the schedule for Biffle. Dover ranks as one of Biffle's Top 2 tracks on the circuit. He is a two-time winner at the Monster Mile and he's only finished outside the Top 10 twice in the last five years of racing at this highly banked oval. Biffle has a real knack for racing this one-mile oval. The venue and timing are right for Biffle to get fourth Top 10 in the last five races.
Of the drivers in the Richard Childress Racing stable, Bowyer without a doubt makes the best fantasy racing play this weekend. The driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet doesn't have the best career numbers at the Monster Mile, but he's racing the best of anyone in this respected stable right now. Bowyer has been getting consistently great cars from his team each week, and we believe that will be a bonus for this race in particular. He should revert to the form that saw him crack the Top 10 in two of his first three career trips to DIS.
Newman soundly stopped his recent mini-slump with a Top-5 finish this past weekend at Darlington Raceway. He now has four Top 5's on the season and enters this weekend ranked a respectable sixth in the driver standings. The Stewart-Haas Racing veteran owns three career victories at Dover International Speedway, and he's led close to 850 laps at the highly-banked oval. Newman's roll should continue in the FedEx 400.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Dover who can provide a solid finish
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has been coming on in recent weeks, and his Top 10 this past week at Darlington is proof that the No. 56 team is heading back in the right direction. This weekend he visits one of his favorite tracks in Dover International Speedway. Truex has one career win and three Top 10's in 10 starts at the Monster Mile. One year ago he won the pole, led 2 laps and finished a respectable 12th. We expect similar results for this Sunday afternoon.
Gordon's 58 percent Top 10 rate at the Monster Mile grabs our attention right away. He has four poles and four career victories at Dover, so Gordon has had his fair share of success at the Monster Mile. The No. 24 team has been inconsistent this season, thus the reason for this week's sleeper ranking instead of solid play ranking. Gordon has finishes of sixth-, 11th- and 11th-place in his last three visits to the Delaware oval, so chances for success in this race are reasonably high.
Kahne is one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series right now. Tracking the trends, we see that the Red Bull Racing veteran has one pole, two Top-5 finishes and over 150 laps led in his last two races entering this weekend. Kahne doesn't have the best career numbers at Dover International Speedway, but we feel his recent hot streak is more than enough to warrant fantasy racing consideration this weekend. Kahne sat on the outside pole and led 24 laps in this event one year ago for former boss Richard Petty.
The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has been coming on the last few weeks for the No. 9 team. Ambrose is fresh off a Top-15 finish at Darlington and will ride the momentum of that performance into this event. He also cracked the Top 15 earlier this spring at similarly configured Bristol Motor Speedway. Since making the jump to NASCAR a few years ago, Ambrose has taken to the steeply banked ovals like a duck takes to water.
In keeping with the Roush Fenway Racing theme this week, we have to give a mandatory nod to Ragan and the No. 6 Ford team. While he hasn't cracked the Top 20 in his last four trips to Dover International Speedway, we think there's good reason to believe Ragan will rebound on Sunday afternoon. The No. 6 team has three Top 10's in their last five races, so the level of performance is high. Ragan should regain Top 15 form at DIS in the FedEx 400.
The No. 43 team is becoming synonymous with the term "solid fantasy racing start". While Allmendinger isn't likely to blow the doors off the field he is prone to field good cars and finishes them in the Top 15 most weeks. His 11th-place ranking in the driver standings entering this event underscores his consistency this season. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has Top 10's in two of his last three trips to the Delaware oval, so he loves racing this facility.
Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs
Juan Pablo Montoya
After a good start to the season, Montoya and the No. 42 team have fallen on hard times the last several weeks. The EGR star has failed to crack the Top 10 in his last four races and he's tumbled to 13th in the driver standings as a result. Montoya has less than impressive career stats at Dover, with only two Top-10 finishes in eight starts. That averages out to a subpar 21.9 average finish at this concrete oval.
We want to believe in a Brian Vickers comeback this season and after his Top 10 at Richmond recently, we were almost convinced. However, getting back to the old levels of performance is proving tricky for the Red Bull Racing star. Vickers tanked last week at Darlington and finished a lowly 34th in the Showtime Southern 500. Dover has proven a tough facility for the driver of the No. 83 Toyota over the years. With only one career Top 10 in 12 starts at DIS, it's best to search elsewhere for fantasy racing help this weekend.
While we're normally high on the Burton at this one-mile oval, the veteran RCR driver has been dealing with some consistency issues of his own lately. Burton has yet to crack the Top 10 in the first 10 races of this season and he sits a lowly 24th in the series standings entering this weekend. Despite a pair of runner-up finishes at the Monster Mile last season, we have to recommend staying away from Burton this Sunday afternoon.
While Keselowski's star is still on the rise in the Sprint Cup Series, we have to cast a critical eye on the No. 2 team this weekend. Despite posting his first Top 10 of the season at Darlington Raceway last Saturday night, we have to be a bit pessimistic of a follow-up performance this weekend at DIS. Dover has been a puzzle for Keselowski in two career starts. Finishes of 18th- and 22nd-place in those efforts aren't offensive, but they do indicate that he has yet to find his footing on this steeply banked oval. We expect Keselowski to come back to earth in the FedEx 400.