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FedEx 400 Preview: Monster Mile Mayhem

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Dover International Speedway plays host to this week's FedEx 400 for Autism Speaks. This is the first race of two this season at the concrete oval in Delaware. Dover International Speedway is also 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+ 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 provides. It's a lightning fast track, and it produces some exciting, side-by-side 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 master if they hope to conquer the competition and this fierce track. With this being the first race of 2014 at the Monster Mile, the learning curve will be steep this weekend. Those teams that can adapt to the practice feedback the quickest will be the ones to succeed this Sunday afternoon. This is race number 13 of the season, so urgency to better one's position in the driver standings will pick up the pace at the Dover oval. We'll surely see some of that urgency in the racing this Sunday afternoon at the Monster Mile.

Since this is our first race of the season at Dover, we need to check in briefly with the electronic loop stats from this high-banked oval. Current trends at this track should hold pretty true to form this weekend. As we saw at Charlotte this past weekend, historical trends can override any hot streaks or other factors coming to a "familiar oval". 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 duo of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have led their share of laps and taken their share of victories at the one-mile oval. The loop stats in the table below cover the last nine years or 18 races at Dover International Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson6.63769902,3096,261121.1
Matt Kenseth12.14804527525,827107.9
Kyle Busch12.84713969305,574106.0
Carl Edwards9.64984875325,239101.3
Greg Biffle9.84974344635,443101.0
Jeff Gordon12.74982611785,41593.7
Kurt Busch16.93992754134,28492.5
Clint Bowyer12.6379178354,65491.6
Martin Truex Jr.17.03632432273,99589.4
Ryan Newman15.13671212464,89189.4
Jeff Burton10.9391202634,06285.7
Brad Keselowski16.016278181,86784.9
Kevin Harvick14.6387111124,39183.6
Denny Hamlin20.53261021433,56782.1
Dale Earnhardt Jr.17.6303224833,42081.3
Kasey Kahne19.9338296543,85480.2
Joey Logano15.42565912,30079.4
Jamie McMurray20.13031121313,06278.4
A.J. Allmendinger22.92211351521,81376.2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.14.03211028975.4

The Monster Mile used to be one of Roush Fenway Racing's most successful venues in the Sprint Cup Series. However, Chevrolet has been catching up fast thanks to the recent dominance of Hendrick Motorsports star Jimmie Johnson. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion has tamed the Monster Mile three times in the last seven races at the Delaware oval. Johnson captured wins in 2010, 2012 and 2013, which includes the last Sprint Cup event at the facility last September. Tony Stewart won this event one year-ago for Chevrolet, breaking Johnson's stranglehold but maintaining this manufacturer's recent success on the high banks. This season, Stewart is 0-for-12 thus far, so the chances of a Stewart victory this weekend would seem unlikely. The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing haven't won at the Monster Mile since Kyle Busch's win in this event in 2010. He and teammate Matt Kenseth represent Toyota's best chances for a Dover trophy this Sunday afternoon. Kenseth has two career wins at the one-mile oval in his Ford days with Roush. Considering the current momentum of the No. 20 team, Kenseth has a great shot at getting JGR back to their winning ways at Dover and claiming his first victory of 2014. A good sleeper to keep an eye on this weekend is Jeff Gordon. The Hendrick Motorsports star is a four-time winner at DIS and he sports good loop stats at the Delaware speedway with a 93.7 driver rating. Considering what Gordon and the No. 24 team have accomplished thus far this season, he and the Hendrick team could make a push for their second 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 this Sunday in the FedEx 400.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Jimmie Johnson -
The winner of three of the last seven Dover races and a total of eight 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 2,700+ career laps led attests. Coming off the big win at Charlotte, could the No. 48 team be heating up for one of those classic Johnson hot streaks? Could be. If by some chance Johnson isn't in the running for the win in the closing laps, his staggering 50-percent Top-5 rate at the one-mile oval is a very reassuring statistic that he won't fall far into the field. The odds are pretty good that we'll see Johnson battling for the win in the closing laps of the FedEx 400.

Kyle Busch -
Once again Busch will look to get back into victory lane at the Monster Mile. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota is a two-time winner at DIS, and he sports a 50-percent Top-5 rate at the track. Even though Busch hasn't won at the one-mile oval since 2010, he's been a contender virtually every time the Sprint Cup Series visits here. Busch led 302 laps, but finished a disappointing seventh in 2012's AAA 400. In this event one year ago, he led 150 laps before finishing an impressive fourth. That's not the first time we've seen the JGR star dominate at DIS, but fall short of victory lane. It should be a big confidence booster for a driver and team looking to rebound from their sub-par Charlotte performance.

Matt Kenseth -
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver can hardly wait to take to the high banks of DIS. Kenseth is racing extremely well in 2014, and his career numbers at this oval are nothing short of impressive. He has two career victories at Dover International Speedway, including this event in 2011, and a 43-percent Top-5 rate at the Monster Mile. Kenseth has an amazing 13 Top-5 finishes at the concrete oval, and over 800 career laps led at this facility. The way the No. 20 Toyota team is performing right now, we expect Kenseth to be Johnson's biggest competitor this weekend at the Monster Mile.

Kevin Harvick -
One of the biggest wildcards in the deck is Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team. He's not one for big stats at this one-mile oval, in fact, he's not even in the Top 10 in driver rating in the above table. However, Harvick is racing about as well right now as anyone in the Sprint Cup Series. The veteran driver has a pair of runner-up finishes in his last two starts and that goes well with his two victories already this season. Given what Harvick did at the high banks of Darlington recently, winning in dominant fashion from the pole, we wouldn't rule anything out for this 400-lap affair in the Monster Mile mixing bowl.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Jeff Gordon -
Gordon is one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series through the first 12 events. Tracking the stats, we see that the Hendrick Motorsports veteran has one victory, two runner-up finishes and 266 laps led entering this weekend. Gordon 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. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has nine Top-10 finishes (75%) to this point in the season, and that's good for tops in the series and the championship standings lead entering the FedEx 400. His current three-race Top-5 streak at Dover speaks to his love of racing at this oval.

Joey Logano -
The Penske Racing driver is riding quite a wave of momentum and quite a streak of recent consistency at Dover into the FedEx 400 this Sunday afternoon. Logano is riding a four-race Top-10 streak at DIS, and that places his career mark at 60-percent at this one-mile oval. The driver of the No. 22 Ford enters the Dover race seventh in the driver standings and having won at the Richmond short track just a few weeks ago. These are all encouraging indicators for the young driver. With the recent career record at the Monster Mile and his current level of performance, it's hard to pass up on Logano in your fantasy racing lineups this weekend.

Carl Edwards -
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 racing well and registering Top 10s most weeks. The one-time Dover winner has a strong 10.0 average finish at this high-banked oval, and he rides an impressive 63-percent Top-10 rate at DIS into this Sunday's event. Edwards and the No. 99 Ford team find themselves fourth in the overall driver standings entering this weekend and riding a two-race Top-10 streak. The outlook is good and things bode well for Edwards at one of his favorite tracks this Sunday afternoon.

Clint Bowyer -
Of the drivers that really need a good run this weekend, Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing team stand out. With only three Top-10 finishes to this point in 2014, the veteran driver finds himself an uncharacteristic 20th in the overall driver standings. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota has been building quite a Dover resume in recent seasons. Bowyer is riding a strong six-race Top-10 streak at the Monster Mile heading into this Sunday's FedEx 400. This streak has boosted his career Top-10 rate at the Delaware oval to right at 56-percent. Bowyer enters this race looking for a strong performance and with a lot on the line this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Dover who can provide a solid finish

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Coming off the poor finish at Charlotte, we're calling for an Earnhardt rebound this week at the Monster Mile. The Hendrick Motorsports icon is a one-time winner at Dover and he has 10 career Top-10 finishes. Earnhardt has better tracks in his Sprint Cup Series lineup. However, his recent performances draw the most scrutiny. Three of his last four trips to DIS have yielded Top-10 finishes. That includes a brilliant performance the last time NASCAR visited this one-mile oval. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet won the pole, led 80 laps and finished runner-up in the AAA 400 last September.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star is a recent winner at Dover International Speedway. Keselowski won at the high-banked oval in the fall of 2012 in a very savvy performance. That was one of two Top-5 finishes that he has in the last three visits to the Dover oval. The career numbers and even loop stats aren't that impressive for the driver of the No. 2 Ford, but his luck seems to be turning at this particular track. Keselowski is racing well coming into the FedEx 400, so we expect him to be on his game this Sunday afternoon. He's a sleeper list driver with homerun potential in this event.

Brian Vickers -
The driver of the No. 55 Toyota has been coming on strong of late. Vickers has two Top 10s in his last three races, including this past weekend's Coca-Cola 600. The Monster Mile has been a good oval for the veteran driver in recent years. Vickers has three starts at the one-mile oval since 2011. Those starts have resulted in finishes of 5th-, 14th- and 12th-place. All finishes on the lead lap for the MWR driver. Considering how well Vickers is performing coming into the FedEx 400, we could see even better finishing marks from the No. 55 Toyota team this week. We wouldn't rule out a possible Top-10 finish.

Marcos Ambrose -
Richard Petty Motorsports has been giving Ambrose fast cars of late. He qualified inside the Top 10 at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past week, but succumbed to an accident later in the race. The Australian has found getting traction this season somewhat difficult to do, despite a pair of Top 5s earlier in the year at the short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville. Ambrose has performed well at the highly banked ovals since making the jump to NASCAR a few years ago. The driver of the No. 9 Ford has three Top-10 finishes in his last six visits to DIS. That doesn't happen by accident at NASCAR's top level.

Aric Almirola -
Ambrose isn't the only RPM driver we'll highlight this weekend. We really feel that Richard Petty Motorsports is in the process of returning to prominence. Almirola has been having a career season in 2014 and he's on pace to set career marks in Top-5 and Top-10 finishes. The driver of the historic No. 43 Ford has only four career Sprint Cup starts at Dover International Speedway, but they have been respectable sixth-, 19th-, 18th- and 22nd-place finishes. Almirola registered a Top-5 finish at the highly-banked oval in Bristol earlier this season, and he's fresh off strong eighth- and 11th-place finishes at Kansas and Charlotte.

Martin Truex Jr. -
The new driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet has been struggling to find his chemistry and groove with his new race team. Truex only has one Top-10 finish to-date in the 2014 season. However, there's good reason to believe he'll be a Top-15 finisher this weekend at Dover. The one-mile oval has been one of his better tracks during his 11-season Sprint Cup Series career. Truex has two pole positions, one victory and six Top-10 finishes in his 16 starts at the Monster Mile. That works out to a respectable 17.0 average finish over the span. A pair of Top 20s for the No. 78 team the past four races bolster our confidence.

Austin Dillon -
The Rookie of the Year candidate has only one career start in a Cup car at Dover International Speedway. That was a mediocre 27th-place finish in this event one year ago for Phoenix Racing. That's not the extent of Dillon's experience at the Monster Mile though. He has four career Nationwide Series starts at the one-mile oval. He claimed one pole position and four Top-10 finishes in those starts. So the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has a good familiarity with the ins and outs of Dover. Dillon is riding a three-race Top-20 streak coming into the FedEx 400 and we expect him to extend this streak after 400-miles of racing this Sunday afternoon.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Greg Biffle -
The No. 16 Ford team hasn't been quite on their game of late. Dover ranks as one of Biffle's top five tracks on the circuit, but his recent performances there have been very forgettable. Biffle has only one Top-10 finish in his last six trips to the Monster Mile. The Roush Fenway Racing veteran limps into this weekend's event at the high-banked oval. He has only one Top-10 finish in the last four races, and he's coming off a very uncharacteristic 21st-place finish at Charlotte. Its best to stay clear of Biffle until he gets his problems and consistency sorted out.

David Ragan -
The Front Row Motorsports veteran is looking for a change of fortunes coming to Dover this week. He comes to the Monster Mile with no Top-10 finishes yet in 2014 and a lowly 34th in the overall driver standings. But he faces a rough history at the one-mile oval in his efforts to turn things around. Ragan has no Top-20 finishes in his last six visits to the Delaware oval. None of those starts saw the No. 34 Ford finish on the lead lap. Given his recent struggles, Ragan will be challenged to break into the Top 25 in the FedEx 400.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is lost in the high weeds as the Sprint Cup Series makes its spring visit to Dover International Speedway. With only three Top-10 finishes to this point, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is an unfamiliar 14th overall in the driver standings after 12 races. The Monster Mile has been an oval of mixed results for Hamlin over the years. His five Top-10 finishes and career average finish of 20.5 rank the oval as one of his worst on the circuit. With only one Top 10 in Hamlin's last six visits, prospects for a turnaround are pretty slim this weekend.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing veteran is having a tough season with his new race team. Entering the half-way marker in the 26 races leading up to the Chase, Busch finds himself a lowly 28th in the driver point standings. Despite the big victory at Martinsville a few weeks ago, the season has largely been a lost campaign. Busch's one career win and eight Top-10 finishes at the Monster Mile came mostly with former boss Roger Penske. Since leaving that stable the veteran driver has struggled to finishes of 24th-, 23rd-, 12th- and 21st-place at the Dover oval. Given his engine failure at Charlotte this past weekend, you could say our confidence is rattled in the No. 41 team.