Apache Warrior 400 Preview: Cut to the Round of 12

Apache Warrior 400 Preview: Cut to the Round of 12

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The Chase for the NASCAR Monster Energy 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 Round of 16. 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 an 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 Apache Warrior 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 Chase Elliott. Johnson has 11-career victories at the Monster Mile and Elliott has three consecutive Top-5 finishes in his three starts at track, so they have the resume to succeed in the Apache Warrior 400. Both are still very much in the

The Chase for the NASCAR Monster Energy 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 Round of 16. 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 an 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 Apache Warrior 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 Chase Elliott. Johnson has 11-career victories at the Monster Mile and Elliott has three consecutive Top-5 finishes in his three starts at track, so they have the resume to succeed in the Apache Warrior 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 the Monster Mile. The Monster Energy 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 25 races at Dover.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson7.95751,3422,7058,542118.3
Matt Kenseth11.66275478458,410108.5
Kyle Busch14.86275751,1587,857105.2
Chase Elliott3.7992801,102100.2
Kyle Larson8.31761543262,09399.6
Martin Truex Jr.13.75415006946,29296.1
Erik Jones15.03112036196.0
Daniel Suarez6.0321038894.1
Kevin Harvick14.35294858226,47391.2
Kurt Busch17.85593434136,29589.7
Brad Keselowski13.93221981813,74189.4
Clint Bowyer13.2528243425,96988.3
Denny Hamlin17.74971712765,67686.1
Ryan Newman15.44581602476,02486.1
Joey Logano14.144010534,66585.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.8451257864,80882.5
Kasey Kahne17.6508371545,80282.5
Jamie McMurray19.04401191344,61178.4
Ryan Blaney26.05515054775.5
Aric Almirola16.21304801,24674.6

Seven of the last nine Dover races have gone to Chevrolet drivers. That string of dominance was only briefly interrupted by Toyota when that manufacturer swept the one-mile track in 2016 (Matt Kenseth & Martin Truex Jr.). Chevrolet got back on top when Jimmie Johnson scored the win for the bowtie brand this past June. The bad news for Chevrolet is that streaking Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. currently have the speed to put their cars into victory lane this weekend, and upend Chevrolet dominance at this oval. Ford's last victory came in 2011 when Matt Kenseth still raced for Roush Fenway Racing. Both the Gibbs and Roush camps have some ground to makeup at this concrete oval.

This season's race in June at the Monster Mile bears close examination. The duo of Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. would dominate most of the race, however, it would be Jimmie Johnson that would surge due to some late cautions and restarts. He would take the lead during NASCAR overtime and forge through to the victory. It snapped a two-race win streak for Toyota at the one-mile Delaware oval and put Chevrolet back on top of the heap at the Monster Mile, at least for the time being. Considering that Johnson is looking to get traction at this point in the Chase for the Cup, this is a timely visit to Dover International Speedway. For the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, it's an opportunity to get back into the thick of the championship quest and advance to the next round. Before you get the sense that Larson, Truex and Johnson will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where they left off in June, we must not forget our 2015 series champion, Kyle Busch. He's fresh off the big win at Loudon last weekend that automatically advances him into the Round of 12 of the Chase. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota hasn't won at the Monster Mile since 2010, but he's been painfully close in recent starts. Busch has led over 100 laps at Dover in his last four trips and finished runner-up twice in that span. The Joe Gibbs Racing star will be a factor in the outcome this weekend. 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

Martin Truex Jr. –
The last few weeks have been a wild ride for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. Truex has dominated in one form or fashion each of the last three races, and came away with the very important win at Chicago. This has set him up very well for a deep run into the Chase for the Cup. He won this event one year ago for his second-career victory at the Monster Mile, and he's led close to 700 laps for his career at this oval. Truex, a New Jersey native, has always considered the Dover events a home-coming of sorts so he looks forward to racing here. He rides a three-race Dover Top-10 streak into Sunday afternoon and that includes over 300 laps led during the streak. Right now the Furniture Row Racing star is performing well enough to win any given weekend.

Kyle Larson –
The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has been working on a career-best campaign and he's getting it together for a strong finish as we approach the end of the season. Larson made the Chase for the Cup for the second-straight season and he's riding a three-race Top-5 streak as we come to Delaware this weekend. The young driver's Dover resume is nearly spotless with five Top 10s in seven-career starts. He scored a pair of runner-up finishes at the Monster Mile in his last three starts. Larson is inching closer and closer to finally winning at this oval. We expect his Dover excellence to continue this Sunday afternoon at the historic one-mile speedway.

Kyle Busch –
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is trying to drive deep into the Chase and challenge for his second championship and his victory at Loudon this past week helps in that regard. Busch will be very focused on following up at Dover this week. He's won two of the last five races entering the weekend, and has tons of momentum coming to the Monster Mile. Busch has always been wildly inconsistent at this concrete race track. He does have two-career wins here and a strong 60-percent Top-10 rate, but his average finish is higher than expected due to six-career DNF's at this track. He's as prone to finish 36th here as he is to finish runner-up. But that's a risk worth taking at this point in the season. Busch's homerun potential is too good to ignore in the Apache Warrior 400.

Kevin Harvick –
Harvick is a great fantasy racing play this weekend. He's coming off a disappointing performance at the Magic Mile, but he's poised to rebound well at the Monster Mile. Harvick has 15-career Top-10 finishes at this one-mile oval and the last of those came in this June's AAA 400. He's won two pole positions, one victory, and led over 800 laps in his last seven Dover starts. It's really a wonder that Harvick has only won the lone event there in the last four seasons. With the Stewart Haas Racing star looking squarely at another chance to win the Cup, we expect to see the driver of the No. 4 Ford racing with some urgency in this 400-lap battle.

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

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-10 finish at Chicago and Top-15 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 11, including two of the last five events at the track. The seven-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion has led 3,100-career laps at the Delaware oval. That's 25-percent of the total laps raced at the Monster Mile since 2002! Johnson is the sneaky ringer pick for this race.

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 18-year career. The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for this veteran driver to pick up a good finish and advance in the Chase for the Cup. Kenseth owns three-career victories at Dover and he's led 904 laps on the concrete high banks. In addition to that the veteran driver has 24 Top-10 finishes at the facility, which works out to a lofty 65-percent rate. Kenseth has Top 10s in three of his last four Dover starts. You can't argue with results and this driver has them at Dover International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin –
One of the hottest drivers in the series the last 2-1/2 months has been Hamlin and his No. 11 Toyota team. In the last 10 races leading up to this weekend's Apache Warrior 400, the veteran driver has 213 laps led, two victories, seven Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes. Dover International Speedway has not been a venue of consistency for this driver and team, but Hamlin has had his flashes of brilliance here over the years. He's won three pole positions at the Monster Mile since the 2012 season. That good starting position has paid off with Top-10 finishes four of the last seven, and the last three-straight Dover races. More recently, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota started 10th on the grid here in June and finished eighth in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism. He's coming off a bit of a letdown, finishing 12th this past week at Loudon, but he should rebound nicely here. Hamlin has a ton of momentum and a lot of upside for this 400-mile event.

Erik Jones –
The rookie driver has broken through that young driver stigma very quickly and now is getting weekly recognition alongside some of the veterans of NASCAR. Jones has been quite impressive over the past couple months. The driver of the No. 77 Toyota got back to his Top-10 ways with a strong sixth-place finish at Loudon this past week. Now he looks to make his second-career start at the Monster Mile. Jones racked up a decent 15th-place finish here in his Dover debut in June. It might have been a better finish were it not for the nine-car pileup that collected him during NASCAR overtime. Jones has been making the difficult look easy of late, with Top-10 finishes in seven of his last eight starts. It's time to ride the hot rookie hand once again this weekend.

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

Brad Keselowski –
The Penske Racing driver is looking for a real boost before the next round of the Chase begins. He's not been in top form recently, but he could explode at any minute. Dover gives him that opportunity. In his last six seasons of racing at the Delaware oval, the driver of the No. 2 Ford has collected two pole positions, one victory, two runner-up finishes and six Top-10 finishes. Keselowski was collected in an early-race crash in his June Dover outing, although he appeared to have decent speed in that race. The veteran driver rides a two-race Top-10 streak into the Monster Mile, so clearly Keselowski is getting it together during the Chase for the Cup.

Chase Elliott –
With the emphasis on Chevrolet this week, we cannot over look Elliott and the No. 24 team. The young driver led off the Chase with a brilliant runner-up finish at Chicago, but came back to earth last week with an 11th-place finish at New Hampshire. Dover International Speedway gives him the chance to pick it up and secure his spot in the next round of the Chase. Elliott has three-career starts at this oval, and they're all Top-5 finishes. Third-, third- and fifth-place shows that this young driver loves the high banks of the Monster Mile. It's been a challenging season for the No. 24 team, but this track is an easy setup for advancing into the next round for Elliott. He shouldn't misfire in the Apache Warrior 400.

Joey Logano –
The Penske Racing driver shook off some poor performance of late with a decent 10th-place finish at the Magic Mile. Logano has now built a modest three-race Top-10 streak entering the Monster Mile as he continues to get the No. 22 team turned around. He has strong career numbers at Dover International Speedway with 10 Top 10s in 17 starts. Logano raced to a solid sixth-place finish in this event one year ago. So he now has eight Top 10s in his last 11 Monster Mile starts coming 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 Apache Warrior 400.

Daniel Suarez –
The fourth and last of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers checks in on our sleepers list this week. Suarez didn't fail to perform at the Magic Mile this past weekend. The rookie driver raced well and navigated the field to finish eighth at the tough one-mile track. Now he visits another tough one-mile oval this weekend, but completely different in configuration. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota made his Dover debut in June, and didn't stumble in that outing. Suarez qualified a brilliant third on the starting grid, and avoided the many accidents of that race to finish a strong sixth-place in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism. He and crew chief, Scott Graves, should have some pretty good notes from that outing, and have the potential to duplicate it this weekend.

Jamie McMurray –
The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran is still alive in the Chase, but by just the slimmest of margins. There's no room to stumble at the Monster Mile, and you can bet McMurray knows that all too well. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has Top-10 finishes in two of his last four races entering the weekend, and has generally been performing well. His Dover experience is pretty vast with 29-career starts, although the Top-10 rate is a bit low at just 28-percent. More recent outings have been above his career average. Three of McMurray's last five starts at the Monster Mile have netted Top-10 finishes. That includes his seventh-place finish here in June. The signs look pretty positive for this driver and team in Chase race number three.

Ryan Blaney –
Blaney has been bucking trends lately. His surprising ninth-place finish at Loudon this past week is a good example. The short tracks have given him difficulty this season, but he broke that trend at Loudon. The Wood Brothers Racing driver is racing to stay alive in the Chase this weekend, so there is some great urgency at hand. Blaney has three-career starts at the Monster Mile, but only one Top-10 finish in those three. We're ready to set that aside, based on the evidence of his recent Bristol start. That similarly configured, but smaller oval yielded a strong 10th-place finish to this driver and team in August. With so much on the line, we're willing to bet the better Blaney shows up this Sunday afternoon.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Clint Bowyer –
Bowyer has a great career history at the Monster Mile and has cracked the Top 10 at a strong 52-percent rate here over the years. However, it's been a while since his last successful performance at this oval. Bowyer is in the middle of a four-race Top-10 drought at Dover International Speedway. That's spread across three different race teams, but what's most concerning was his outing here in June. The No. 14 Ford looked slow and unresponsive. Bowyer fought it the full day to an improbable 31st-place finish. There's always a chance that this talented veteran will rebound, but we'd recommend erring to the side of caution in this very important race.

Kasey Kahne –
It has been a tough season for the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team. Kahne made the Chase for the Cup field, but he's battled consistency issues all season long. He comes to Dover mired in an eight-race Top-10 drought. Dover has been an inconsistent oval throughout the years for this veteran driver. Kahne has just eight Top-10 finishes here in 27-career starts (30-percent). His outing here in June ended in a late-race crash and 17th-place finish. The No. 5 team will likely give this veteran driver a decent car, but Kahne's luck and skill have not measured up of late. It's likely going to yield another sub-par to poor finish in the Apache Warrior 400.

Austin Dillon –
We've not featured Dillon in the slow down list very much this season. He's been a steady competitor and Top-20 finisher most weeks. However, his short resume at the Monster Mile is a big caution flag. In eight-career starts at DIS, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has come away with five finishes outside the Top 20. With only one Top-10 finish in those eight starts, his average finish stands a lofty 22.6. The Richard Childress Racing driver has stumbled out of the gates in the Chase with finishes of 16th- and 19th-place at Chicago and New Hampshire. Dillon is facing the distinct possibility of elimination from the Chase this weekend, and that may just make him press just a little too much at this tricky oval.

Kurt Busch –
After stumbling out of the gates to begin the Chase, the pressure is on the SHR No. 41 team. Busch comes to the Monster Mile 15th in the Chase standings and facing elimination unless something big happens. Unfortunately, the news is not good for the veteran driver. Dover has been an oval of struggles over the years for Busch. With only nine Top 10s in 34 starts, he checks in at a lowly 27-percent Top-10 rate. Times have been particularly difficult in recent seasons. Busch has only one Top 10 in the last 11 starts at the Delaware oval. His performance there in June was a crash and DNF. The risks are far too high with this driver and team at Dover.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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