AAA 400 Preview: Can Keselowski Tame the Monster?

AAA 400 Preview: Can Keselowski Tame the Monster?

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup continues this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile is the perfect setup for the third race of the Chase, which is the completion of the Challenger Round. The field of 16 drivers will be reduced by 4 after the finish of this event, and only 12 drivers will advance to the next round of the Chase for the Cup. We've visited an intermediate oval and a short track to this point in the 10-race playoff. 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. The driver that shows up with the best race car on Sunday will likely have a decent shot at winning the AAA 400, since this race seldom ever comes down to pit strategy or fuel mileage. Hendrick Motorsports teams and Chevrolet have had their fair share of success at Dover in over the years, so this event will be great news for Chase participants Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. The duo has combined for 13 wins at the Monster Mile over their career, so they have the resume to succeed in the AAA 400. Both are still very much in the running for the championship, so you know they'll be racing hard in this 400-mile battle. The races at Dover International Speedway are usually anything but dull. Most are led by a number of drivers, and are 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 Sprint Cup Series schedule presents a very appropriate race and a challenge for the drivers in this third race in the Chase for the championship.

The Monster Mile is quite unique in configuration. It's comparable to Bristol Motor Speedway, but much larger. The concrete surface that was placed in 1995 made it the first concrete oval that NASCAR raced on. Little has changed since then. With this in mind it will be really useful to take a look at the loop stats for this one-mile oval. For this event we will place a great deal of emphasis on the recent history of Dover International Speedway, specifically the race here earlier this summer. The configuration and concrete surface 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 19 races at Dover.

Jimmie Johnson6.33871,0692,5816,661122.5
Matt Kenseth11.65054617696,224108.3
Kyle Busch14.44734131,0115,698105.3
Carl Edwards9.85194915325,374100.0
Greg Biffle11.35054344635,49798.9
Jeff Gordon12.85212891785,81594.5
Clint Bowyer12.1403190404,93992.1
Kurt Busch17.04152924134,41591.6
Martin Truex Jr.16.43912492274,24989.3
Ryan Newman15.93751342464,97888.1
Brad Keselowski14.4202102192,26787.9
Jeff Burton10.9391202634,06285.7
Kyle Larson11.0212026985.5
Kevin Harvick14.7393144364,55684.8
Denny Hamlin19.63581141433,90183.3
Dale Earnhardt Jr.17.1334232833,82082.5
Joey Logano14.72896512,69981.3
Kasey Kahne19.8371311544,10180.4
Jamie McMurray19.73151121313,17378.3
Aric Almirola15.47223071177.2

What used to be a track of manufacturer parity has begun to tilt in one direction the last couple seasons. Chevrolet drivers have taken the last three-straight wins at the Dover oval, and for the moment have broken Ford and Toyota's grip on the facility. The bad news is that Toyota has only two career wins at the high-banked oval and the last coming via Kyle Busch in 2010. Ford's last victory came in 2011 when Matt Kenseth still raced for Roush Fenway Racing. Both the Gibbs and Roush camps have a lot of ground to makeup at this concrete oval. This season's race in June at the Monster Mile bears close examination. The Hendrick star Jimmie Johnson and Penske star Brad Keselowski battled over the final handful of laps, but in the end it was Johnson who would prevail and take his second-straight win at the facility. It was his ninth career win at the Monster Mile and one of three victories for the season. Considering that Johnson has been struggling to find his winning groove the past couple months, this is a timely visit to Dover International Speedway. For the surging Keselowski, it's an opportunity to get another leg up in the championship quest. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has visited victory lane before at the Delaware speedway, so he's no stranger to taming the Monster. Before you get the sense that these two stars will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where he left off in June, we must not forget our championship standings leader for most of the season, Jeff Gordon. He had been on a roll until last week's bad luck at New Hampshire. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is a four-time winner at Dover International Speedway. Gordon has visited the Top 5 in three of his last four trips to DIS, so you know he'll be on his game for this one. We'll examine the Dover historical stats, and we'll take a good look at the current trends to give you the lineup of drivers you need to dominate the high banks of the Monster Mile this Sunday afternoon.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Brad Keselowski -
This Penske Racing driver has elevated his game in the last several races. It wasn't enough to make the Chase, but he's been racing with a purpose in recent weeks. Keselowski is seen racing with the leaders every week and a major threat to win each race. In his last four trips to the Delaware oval, the driver of the No. 2 Ford has collected one pole position, one victory, one runner-up finish and three Top-5 finishes. He narrowly lost June's FedEx 400 to Jimmie Johnson at the Monster Mile. Keselowski will be on a mission to complete that unfinished business and take another step towards this season's championship.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is looking to make up ground in the Chase for the Cup standings as we roll into Dover this weekend. It's funny how the No. 48 team always seems to step up their performance when it's championship time. After a Top-15 finish at Chicago and Top-5 finish at Loudon to start the Chase, the Hendrick Motorsports star is poised to up his game a notch this Sunday afternoon. Johnson is the active wins leader at the Monster Mile with nine, including the last two events at the track. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion has led 658 laps in his last three trips to the Delaware oval. That's almost 55-percent of the laps run at the Monster Mile over this span. That makes Johnson a top contender for this event.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick is a great fantasy racing play this weekend. Most race fans aren't aware that the No. 4 team's driver is pretty solid at Dover. We can't forget some of the great finishes that Harvick has posted over the years at DIS. Harvick has 12 career Top-10 finishes at the Monster Mile and five of those have come in his last seven starts at the high-banked oval. In June's FedEx 400, Harvick parlayed a good eighth-place starting spot on the grid into 24 laps led early on, but bad luck pushed him outside the Top 15 by race's end. With the Stewart Haas Racing star being as close to the championship as he's ever been, we expect to see the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet racing with some urgency in the AAA 400.

Jeff Gordon -
The No. 24 team comes to the Dover oval looking to regain momentum this weekend, after Gordon's disappointing 26th-place finish at Loudon. Gordon is racing with a purpose this Chase season and that is despite his bump in the road this past weekend. He had runner-up finishes in the two events prior to Loudon, so performance level is not a concern. While Dover International Speedway hasn't been one of his best tracks in the later stages of his career, Gordon has the mettle to post 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-10 finisher in 56-percent of his starts at this oval. If there is a surprise winner in the field this Sunday afternoon, it's most likely Gordon.

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

Joey Logano -
The Penske Racing driver shook off some poor Loudon performance of late with a surprising victory at the Magic Mile to continue his Chase for the Cup. Logano now finds himself second in the standings at one point behind teammate Keselowski coming to Dover. He has strong career numbers at Dover International Speedway with seven Top 10s in 11 starts. Logano raced to a solid eighth-place finish in June's FedEx 400. So he now rides a five-race Dover Top-10 streak into Sunday's race. We expect the No. 22 Ford team will have extensive notes from those performances, and Logano will put them to good use in the AAA 400.

Matt Kenseth -
The team with the great Monster Mile pedigree this weekend is the No. 20 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota team. Kenseth has been solid as a rock at this one-mile oval over his 15-year career. The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for this veteran driver to pick up yet another Top-10 finish in the Chase for the Cup. Kenseth owns two career victories at Dover and he's led 828 laps on the concrete high banks. In addition to that the veteran driver has 20 Top-10 finishes at the facility, which works out to a lofty 65-percent rate. You can't argue with results and this driver has them at Dover International Speedway.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is trying hard to keep up with the standings leaders after his pair of Top-10 finishes to start the Chase. Busch should be very happy to visit one of his favorite ovals this weekend at Dover. The No. 18 Toyota team has posted a pair of victories and 12 Top-10 finishes in 19 starts at the Monster Mile. That works out to a stellar 63-percent Top-10 rate at this concrete oval. Three of Busch's last four trips to Dover International Speedway have netted Top-10 finishes along with 563 laps led, so we're very optimistic that Busch will be very strong in this weekend's AAA 400.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer has been nothing short of flawless in recent trips to the high-banked concrete oval. The Michael Waltrip Racing star has 10 career Top-10 finishes at Dover International Speedway, and he rides an amazing seven-race Top 10 streak at the Monster Mile into Sunday's AAA 400. Bowyer qualified 10th and finished fourth in the Dover mixing bowl in June, so the team has the setup nailed. The No. 15 team has been giving Bowyer good cars of late, so another Top-10 finish should be in store for this weekend's 400-mile brawl with the Monster.

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

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
It may very well be make or break time in regards to Earnhardt's chances to win this season's championship. Only three races into the Chase it may seem rash to think this, but he comes to Dover fifth in the driver standings and nothing has been going easy of late. It's time for the No. 88 Chevrolet team to respond to the pressure. Earnhardt has one victory and 11 career Top-10 finishes at the concrete monster. Those numbers include some really good performances the last couple seasons. In this race one year ago, he won the pole, led 80 laps and finished runner-up. In June, Earnhardt soldiered to a hard-fought ninth-place finish.

Carl Edwards -
If the current malaise in the No. 99 team hopes to break, then this will be the weekend. The Roush Fenway Racing star is looking to continue his pursuit of that elusive championship at one of his favorite tracks this Sunday afternoon. We expect Edwards to have his best on display this Sunday. The recent Top 10 at Bristol showed the potential of this driver and team on a high banked oval. He owns one victory and 12 Top-10 finishes in 20 career starts at the Monster Mile and he's led well over 500 laps at the facility. Considering how good Edwards has been at this one-mile oval, it would be a shock to see him racing anywhere but up front at Dover.

Jamie McMurray -
One of the hottest drivers in the series right now is not Jimmie Johnson, it's not Jeff Gordon, it's not Carl Edwards. It's none other than McMurray and his No. 1 CGR team. In just the last five races leading up to this weekend's AAA 400, the veteran driver has 180 laps led, two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes. Dover International Speedway has not been a venue of consistency for this driver and team, but McMurray has had his flashes of brilliance there over the years. He led 96 laps and finished runner-up here in 2006 for former boss Jack Roush. That's one of five career Top 10s at the one-mile oval. More recently, McMurray has registered steady 11th- and 13th-place finishes in his visits to the Monster Mile.

Martin Truex Jr. -
The last few weeks have been a bumpy ride for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. However, Truex has soldiered through as he demonstrated with strong Top-15 performances at Chicago and Loudon the past two weeks. He won at this Delaware oval in 2007 for former team Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he's won two career pole positions at the concrete oval. Truex, a New Jersey native, has always considered the Dover events a home-coming of sorts so he looks forward to racing here. His stellar sixth-place finish in his last visit to the Monster Mile is a good measure of what to expect this Sunday afternoon.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
The young Roush Fenway Racing driver had a bump in his recent uptick of performance this past week at New Hampshire. Stenhouse had been racing well until his misfortune and 39th-place belly flop at Loudon. However, we think the young Roush Fenway Racing driver will rebound this week given the venue. The Monster Mile hasn't been too hard on this driver. Stenhouse owns a pair of Top 15s and three Top 20s in his four career starts at the concrete mixing bowl. The No. 17 team and this young driver should have no trouble rebounding at this one-mile oval.

Kyle Larson -
The two teams of Chip Ganassi Racing have been among the most impressive in the Chevrolet camp the past several weeks. Both Jamie McMurray and Larson have been leading laps, racing with the lead pack and challenging for Top-5 finishes. The rookie driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has been doing this despite his lack of experience in the Cup Series car. Larson didn't make the Chase for the Cup, but you wouldn't know it by his last two starts. Second- and third-place finishes at Chicago and Loudon have this young driver rolling. He scored a steady 11th-place finish at Dover in June and should be equal or better than that task Sunday afternoon.

Aric Almirola -
If you're looking for a low-profile driver that has been racing extremely well of late, then Almirola is you man this week. The driver of the No. 43 Ford has been a strong performer over the last several races as he has been scrambling to make the second round of the Chase. Almirola has three Top-10 finishes in the last four races coming into this weekend's event. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver is under the pressure of racing his way into the Contender Round and won't be letting up in this Sunday's event. He scored a strong 12th-place finish at the Monster Mile this past June, and should have the momentum to exceed that mark in the AAA 400.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne needs a pretty big performance at Dover International Speedway to keep his slim Chase for the Cup hopes alive. He comes to the Monster Mile 12th in the driver standings and sitting firmly atop the bubble to transfer into the next round, the Contender Round of the NASCAR playoff. The news isn't all that great for the No. 5 Chevrolet team. Kahne only has five Top 10s in his 11-season career of racing at the high-banked oval. That works out to a poor 21.0 average finish over those 21 starts. It's one of Kahne's worst tracks in his Sprint Cup resume. He hasn't visited the Top 10 here since the 2012 season.

Austin Dillon -
This is the first time in the 2014 season that we've featured Dillon in the slow down list. He's been a steady competitor and Top-15 finisher most weeks. However, his short resume at the Monster Mile is a big caution flag. In two career starts at DIS, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has come away with 27th- and 20th-place finishes. In Dillon's two-season Nationwide Series career, he posted Top 10s at the one-mile oval, but never really was one to lead laps or contend for the win at this facility. It could simply be that the RCR youngster just doesn't have a good feel for this concrete oval. Top-15 finishes for this driver and team are great, but we're willing to bet he won't be there this Sunday.

Kurt Busch -
After difficulties at New Hampshire last weekend, the pressure is on the SHR No. 41 team. Busch comes to the Monster Mile 15th in the Chase standings and in serious danger of not advancing to the next round. Unfortunately, the news is not good for the veteran driver. Dover has been an oval of struggles over the years for Busch. With only 8 Top 10s in 28 starts, he checks in at a lowly 29-percent Top-10 rate. Times have been particularly difficult in recent seasons. Busch has only one Top 10 in the last seven starts at the Delaware oval. His performance there in June was a sub-par 18th-place finish, which is where he'll likely end up in the AAA 400.

Ryan Newman -
Newman has a lot on the line this weekend with his Chase for the Cup expectations. The veteran RCR driver comes to Dover International Speedway 11th in the championship standings and looking to get a good finish to keep him alive in the next round of the Chase. Newman's recent Dover resume is nothing short of complete mess. After posting three victories and 11 Top 10s earlier in his career at the high-banked oval, his recent trips have been very disappointing. Newman has only one Top-10 finish in his last seven Dover outings, and he finished a very poor 31st here in June. The chips look stacked against the No. 31 team this Sunday afternoon.

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Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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