The Chase for the Sprint Cup continues this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile is the perfect setup for the third race of the Chase. We've visited an intermediate oval and a short track to this point. Now it's time to race at oval that fits somewhere in between. This one-mile bowl races like a short track, but it also has the high speeds and ability to pass like the larger tracks. With the parity among manufacturers at this oval we expect to see a wild shoot out this weekend. Whoever can show up with the best race car on Sunday will likely have a decent shot at winning the AAA 400. Roush Fenway Racing teams have had their fair share of success at Dover in over the years, so this event will be great news for Chase participants Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. The duo has combined for three wins in the 2011 season, with one of the two victories for Kenseth coming in the May Dover event. The races at Dover International Speedway are usually anything but dull. Most are led by a number of drivers, and are usually very competitive. The parity that we currently have at this track is a good indicator of the entertainment factor associated with this race. In recent years, we have seldom seen one driver run away and dominate at DIS. The schedule presents a very appropriate race and a challenge for the drivers in the third race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The Monster Mile is quite unique in configuration. It's comparable mostly to Bristol Motor Speedway, but much larger. With this in mind it will be really useful to take a look at the loop stats for this one-mile oval. For this race we will place a great deal of emphasis on the recent history of Dover International Speedway. The configuration and concrete surface here really appeals to a select group of drivers, and they'll be easily identifiable from the numbers below. Here are the loop stats for the last 13 races at Dover.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUAL. PASSES||# of FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||DRIVER RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||16.0||260||190||223||2,842||89.7|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||20.4||183||131||2||1,878||76.1|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||23.0||148||80||5||1,563||74.9|
Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota have each won in the last three races at DIS. This manufacturer parity makes prognostication at this oval a bit difficult. This season's race in May at the Monster Mile bears close examination. Carl Edwards battled with Jimmie Johnson over the course of the 400 laps, but it was Matt Kenseth who sneaked into the lead on the final restart to lead the final 32 laps and take the victory. It was his second career win at the facility and second of the season. Considering how hot-and-cold the Roush Fenway Racing star is entering the Chase for the Cup, he should be looking forward to 400 laps at the Monster Mile this weekend. The only teams to give Edwards-Johnson duo any competition that day were Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Kenseth. The trio led a combined 68 laps, but was nipping at the heels of Johnson and Edwards the entire event. Before you get the sense that these two stars will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where he left off in May, we must first realize how difficult it is to win at Dover. With the chase for the championship now squarely in play, don't rule out any surprise performances in the AAA 400. With Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch seemingly having new life in the championship Chase, there's sure to be some madness at Dover International Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is quickly scrambling in an attempt to find his groove again now that the Chase is under way. It's funny how the No. 48 team always seems to step up their performance when it's championship time. After a sub-par outing at Loudon this past weekend, the Hendrick Motorsports star has his work cut out for him. Johnson is the active wins leader at the Monster Mile with six, including three of the last five events at the track. The defending Sprint Cup Series champion has led 623 laps in his last three trips to the Delaware oval. That makes Johnson the top contender for this event.
Carl Edwards -
If Edwards hopes to make a run at the title, a great run and finish at Dover will be mandatory. The No. 99 team can't visit this track and post a mediocre finish if they hope to challenge for the championship. We expect Edwards to have his best on display this Sunday. He owns one victory and 10 Top-10 finishes in 14 career starts at the Monster Mile and he's led over 400 laps at the facility. Considering how good Edwards has been the last several weeks, it would be a shock to see him racing anywhere but up front at Dover.
Matt Kenseth -
The no-mistake contender this weekend is the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team. Kenseth has been anything but consistent in the later half of this season, but his Dover excellence is impossible to ignore. The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for this veteran driver to pick up a victory in the Chase. Kenseth enters this event with Top 5's in six of his last seven starts at DIS, including a brilliant victory in this season's Autism Speaks 400. You can't argue with results and this driver has them at this high-banked oval.
Jeff Gordon -
The No. 24 team brings some great momentum to Dover this weekend, after Gordon's big Top 5 at Loudon. Gordon is racing with a purpose this season, and that is to win another Sprint Cup Series championship. While Dover International Speedway hasn't been one of his best tracks in the later stages of his career, Gordon has the mettle to pull a great finish in the AAA 400. The Hendrick Motorsports star is a four-time winner at the Monster Mile, and he's a Top 5 finisher in nearly 38 percent of his starts at this oval. No doubt, Gordon will be racing with the leaders on Sunday afternoon.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning
Tony Stewart -
It was difficult putting Smoke in the solid plays list this week and not in the contenders list. After two straight wins, the No. 14 team is on fire. However, the odds will be against him posting a third straight win. Stewart is focused on the championship and he's going to have to go for broke this weekend to make it happen. He is a two-time winner at DIS, although those victories came much earlier in his Sprint Cup career. Stewart sports a career 60 percent Top 10 rate at the Monster Mile, but he's going to have to rediscover some old magic to tame the Monster.
Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is sitting in a precarious position regarding this season's Sprint Cup Series championship. Busch is ranked eighth in the Chase standings entering this event, and in great need of a good finish. The No. 18 Toyota looked powerfully strong in finishing fourth at DIS earlier this season, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see that strength displayed again this weekend in the AAA 400. Busch is a two-time winner at the Monster Mile and he boasts a better than 50 percent Top 5 rate at the Delaware oval. Its crunch time and Busch should respond accordingly in this 400-lap event.
Ryan Newman -
Newman is a great fantasy play this weekend. Most race fans aren't aware that the No. 39 team's driver is pretty solid at Dover. We can't forget some of the great finishes that Newman posted at DIS while with Penske Racing. Newman won three times earlier in his career at the Monster Mile and he carried that tradition forward to his new team when he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing a couple seasons ago. Three of his five starts at the one-mile oval for his new boss have resulted in Top-10 finishes. Newman should be able to equal the eighth-place result he posted in this event one year ago.
Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer has been heating up the last couple weeks, and despite running out of gas at New Hampshire while in the lead this past week he should shake that off to race well at Dover. Bowyer has four career Top-10 finishes at Dover International Speedway, and one of those was earlier this year in the Autism Speaks 400. The RCR veteran led 29 laps that day and finished a respectable sixth after 400 laps in the Dover mixing bowl. The No. 33 team has been giving Bowyer great cars of late, so another Top-10 finish should be in store for this weekend's AAA 400.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Dover who can provide a solid finish
Mark Martin -
The revival of the No. 5 team continues as Martin starts to warrant fantasy racing consideration once more. The veteran driver went through a summer slump where he only posted two Top 10's over a 10-race span. Martin has corrected that problem by picking up two Top 10's in his last three races. The Hendrick Motorsports star is a four-time winner at the Monster Mile, and he's collected a mind-boggling 31 Top-10 finishes at the oval over the years. Two of his last four trips to Dover have yielded runner-up finishes, so it's clear he loves to race at this one-mile oval.
Kurt Busch -
Penske Racing veteran Busch has been a spotty performer at Dover International Speedway, but his recent performances at the one-mile oval bear close examination. Busch led 99 laps and collected a pair of Top-5 finishes at DIS in 2009. In this event one year ago, the driver of the No. 22 Dodge navigated his way to a brilliant fourth-place finish. That was Busch's third Top-5 finish in his last five trips to the Delaware oval. Considering the championship is on the line this weekend, we like Busch to pull a clutch performance in the AAA 400.
Brad Keselowski -
The other Penske Racing driver has elevated his game from obscurity to near-stardom over the last couple months. Keselowski is seen racing with the leaders almost every week and certainly a Top-10 finisher the week's he's not competing for victories. In his three career starts at Dover International Speedway, he's picked up a pair of Top-20 finishes. The last time the Sprint Cup Series visited the Monster Mile was well before Keselowski caught fire this summer. So he should have no trouble improving on his career best finish of 13th at this oval.
Martin Truex Jr. -
The No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing team may be on the outside looking in at the Chase, but that won't stop Truex from posting some great finishes in the Chase for the Cup races. He won at this Delaware oval in 2007 for former team Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he won the pole here in May of last year before finishing 12th in the Autism Speaks 400. Truex, a New Jersey native, always considers the Dover events a home-coming of sorts so he looks forward to racing here. His eighth-place finish here earlier this season is a good sign of what to expect this Sunday afternoon.
Jeff Burton -
Burton has been largely insignificant this season from a fantasy racing standpoint. He enters this event ranked 24th in the standings with only one Top-10 finish on the season. Burton has shown some signs of life the last few races. The No. 31 team has given him decent cars and the veteran driver has responded with Top-15 finishes in four of his last five races. Burton is a one-time Dover winner, and his last three trips to DIS have yielded a pair of second-place and an 11th-place finish. The venue and the timing are right for Burton to break out.
A.J. Allmendinger -
Allmendinger has had quite a season, and he's been a useful fantasy racing driver in weekly lineup leagues. The driver of the No. 43 Ford sits a respectable 15th in the championship standings entering this event, and he's generally been a Top-15 finisher most weeks this season. Allmendinger loves racing at this oval, and he's qualified on the outside pole in his last two trips to the Monster Mile. Considering that the Richard Petty Motorsports star has Top 15's in three of his last four trips to the one-mile oval, how can you go wrong deploying him in the AAA 400 this weekend?
Marcos Ambrose -
If you're looking for a low-profile driver that loves racing on high bank ovals, then Ambrose is you man this week. The driver of the No. 9 Ford has been a good finisher at both Bristol and Dover's high banks during his Sprint Cup Series career. Ambrose posted a career-best finish of third at DIS earlier this season, and he recently raced to a respectable 10th-place finish at Bristol a few weeks ago. The team is coming off a disappointing finish at Loudon, so there will be extra motivation for Ambrose at Dover.
Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs
Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin has had to struggle to make the Chase, and he's struggled in his two appearances to this point. The No. 11 team's 31st- and 29th-place finishes the last two weeks have dropped him to the bottom of the 12-man Chase standings. The news doesn't get any better this week. The Monster Mile hasn't been kind to the Joe Gibbs Racing star over the years. Hamlin's lowly 36 percent Top 10 rate and average finish of 20.9 at this one-mile oval are definitely warning signs to acknowledge this week.
Greg Biffle -
This pick could blow up in our face this week, but we're determined to make it anyway. The No. 16 team is simply snake-bitten right now. Dover has been a good venue for BIffle over the years but we're quite convinced this driver and team will find a way to disappoint during the AAA 400. The Roush Fenway Racing veteran had a good car on his hands last week at Loudon and snapped a six-race Top 10 drought with a Top 5 at the New Hampshire short track. Still, three of Biffle's last four trips to Dover have not measured up to his standards at this facility. We're placing our bets against the struggling Roush driver this Sunday.
David Reutimann -
The Monster Mile proved to be a good venue for Michael Waltrip Racing earlier this season. Reutimann finished a respectable 15th in the Autism Speaks 400 for his second career Top-15 finish at the one-mile oval. The No. 00 team has struggled through this entire season, and currently rides a disappointing 28th in the series standings. Reutimann has failed to crack the Top 20 in his last five events entering this weekend. We're convinced the No. 00 Toyota team's struggles will continue in this Sunday's AAA 400.
Paul Menard -
The first stat that jumps off the page at us is Menard's 20.9 average finish at Dover International Speedway. He's posted only one Top 10 in eight starts at the Delaware oval. Menard's second half of the 2011 season has left us feeling empty after his big win at Indianapolis. We had very high expectations of this No. 27 team for the second half of the season. Menard has only cracked the Top 10 once since that big Brickyard victory back in July.