Delaware 400 Preview: The Round of 12 Begins

Delaware 400 Preview: The Round of 12 Begins

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 fourth race of the Chase, which is the beginning of the Round of 12. The field of 16 drivers were reduced by four after last weekend at the Charlotte Roval, and now only 12 drivers advance to the next round of the Chase for the Cup.

We've visited an intermediate oval, a short track and a road course/oval 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 Delaware 400, since this race seldom ever comes down to pit strategy or fuel mileage. Each of the three different manufacturers have won in the last three races at the Monster Mile. 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 Delaware oval. The Monster Energy Cup Series schedule presents a very appropriate race and a challenge for 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 fourth race of the Chase, which is the beginning of the Round of 12. The field of 16 drivers were reduced by four after last weekend at the Charlotte Roval, and now only 12 drivers advance to the next round of the Chase for the Cup.

We've visited an intermediate oval, a short track and a road course/oval 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 Delaware 400, since this race seldom ever comes down to pit strategy or fuel mileage. Each of the three different manufacturers have won in the last three races at the Monster Mile. 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 Delaware oval. The Monster Energy Cup Series schedule presents a very appropriate race and a challenge for the drivers in this fourth 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 27 races at Dover.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson7.76371,3762,7109,331117.2
Matt Kenseth11.66475498458,729107.7
Kyle Busch15.06666391,1888,525105.5
Chase Elliott5.0153791381,902104.4
Kyle Larson8.12072154632,652100.8
Martin Truex Jr.12.95865597457,03897.9
Daniel Suarez5.778801,14896.9
Kevin Harvick13.95766571,0237,10093.6
Brad Keselowski13.23662533284,52091.6
Clint Bowyer12.6589278826,67689.4
Kurt Busch17.45933614136,82089.3
Denny Hamlin18.05461832766,24585.8
Joey Logano14.148910745,20384.9
Ryan Newman15.94711692476,25784.5
Erik Jones15.06619075083.3
Kasey Kahne17.4534379546,12081.7
Jamie McMurray18.54781281345,08178.5
Ryan Blaney21.88018098578.0
Aric Almirola16.51476001,52673.5
William Byron14.0130022172.5

While each different manufacturer has won in the last three Dover races, three of the last five Dover races have gone to Toyota drivers. Joe Gibbs Racing have taken two of those wins (Kyle Busch & Matt Kenseth) and Furniture Row and Martin Truex Jr. seized one of them. Toyota's string at the Monster Mile has been briefly interrupted by Jimmie Johnson and Chevrolet's win at the one-mile oval in early 2017, and Kevin Harvick and Ford's victory here in May of this year. The parity that we've seen at the high banks of Dover is encouraging for all the Chase participants this weekend. Any driver lucky and skillful enough to be above the cut line and inside the Top 12 have an opportunity to advance Sunday in the Delaware 400. It's that urgency that should add even more drama and excitement to Sunday's 400-lap race.

This season's race in May at the Monster Mile bears close examination. The Ford duo of Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski would dominate most of the race, however, it would be Harvick that would just simply run away and hide at the end. He would take the lead for the final time on lap 338 and run out to a 7+ second margin of victory over Clint Bowyer. It was Harvick's second-career win at the Monster Mile and put Ford back on top of the heap at this oval, at least for the time being. Considering that Harvick 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. 4 Ford, it's an opportunity to get back into the thick of the championship battle and punch his ticket to the next round of the Chase. Before you get the sense that Keselowski and Harvick will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where they left off in May, we must not forget about Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. These two represent the best opportunity for Toyota and Chevrolet to upstage Ford this weekend. Keep a close eye on the No. 78 Toyota and No. 42 Chevrolet as they will be heard from 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

Kevin Harvick - Harvick is a great fantasy racing play this weekend. He's coming off a struggling ninth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval, but he's poised to rebound well at the Monster Mile. Harvick has two wins and 16-career Top-10 finishes at this one-mile oval and the last of those victories came in May's AAA 400. He's won two pole positions, and led well over 1,100 laps in his career racing at Dover. It's really a wonder that Harvick has only won two races here over the years, and not more. We would credit that to Jimmie Johnson's years of excellence at DIS for that lower number. With the Stewart Haas Racing star looking squarely at another chance to win the championship, we expect to see the driver of the No. 4 Ford racing with some urgency in this 400-lap battle.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star is looking for a real boost after his mishap and crash at the Charlotte Roval last week. Dover gives him that opportunity. In his last seven 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 eight Top-10 finishes. Keselowski led 109 laps in the early stages of May's AAA 4000, but would later fade to finish sixth-place on the day. The veteran driver rides a two-race Dover Top-10 streak into Sunday's action. Keselowski was the hottest driver in the series during September, and there's no reason he can't heat up again during this second round of the Chase. Dover International Speedway in a tantalizing opportunity for this driver and team.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is trying to drive deep into the Chase and challenge for his second championship, but his crash and DNF at Charlotte's Roval this past week is a bit of a setback. Busch will be very focused on rebounding at Dover this week. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has always been wildly inconsistent at this concrete race track. However, Busch does have three-career wins here and a strong 59-percent Top-10 rate, but his average finish is higher than normal due to seven-career DNF's at this track. He's as prone to finish 36th here as he is to finish runner-up or win. But that's a risk worth taking at this point in the season. Busch's home run potential is too good to ignore in the Delaware 400.

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, but has come away empty handed, at least in the win's department. He's setup well in the points, but would like to get a victory and lock into the next round of the Chase. Truex won this event two years ago for his second-career victory at the Monster Mile, and he's led close to 750 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 five-race Dover Top-10 streak into Sunday afternoon and that includes over 350 laps led during the streak. Right now the Furniture Row Racing star is performing well enough to win any given weekend.

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

Kyle Larson - The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has been finding more speed each week, but that elusive first victory of 2018 is still somewhere in the shadows. Larson made the Chase for the Cup for the third-straight season and he's looking to finish the season and the Chase strong as he seeks his first-career championship. The young driver's Dover resume is nearly spotless with seven Top 10s in nine-career starts. He scored a pair of runner-up finishes at the Monster Mile in his last five starts. Larson won the pole position here in May, but failed to lead a lap around the high banks of DIS. He still finished a respectable 10th at the end of that afternoon. We expect him to be much better this time around.

Chase Elliott -
With a greater emphasis on Chevrolet this week, we cannot over look Elliott and the No. 9 team. The young driver led off the Chase with a crash and DNF at Las Vegas, but quickly rallied to grab fourth- and sixth-place finishes the last two weeks at Richmond and on the Roval. Dover International Speedway gives him the chance to keep it up and secure his spot in the next round of the Chase. Elliott has five-career starts at this oval, and four of them are Top-5 finishes. He finished 12th in May at the Monster Mile, and that has been his worst finish to-date, which is not half-bad. In this event one year ago Elliott led 138 laps and finished runner-up to Kyle Busch. The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has that type of potential for this 400-lap race.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson had a near-brush with victory lane at the Charlotte Roval this past Sunday, but the last turn crash would dash his championship hopes. The Hendrick Motorsports star was eliminated from the Chase on a tie-breaker after that outcome. We believe he'll rebound this week none-the-less. Johnson is the active wins leader at the Monster Mile with 11, including two of the last seven events at the track. The seven-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion has led 3,105-career laps at the Delaware oval. That's 24-percent of the total laps raced at the Monster Mile since 2002! Johnson has great potential in this race, so don't let his Chase for the Cup elimination deter his fantasy racing use in the Delaware 400.

Kurt Busch -
After stumbling out of the gates to begin the Chase, this veteran driver redeemed himself with a pole position and fifth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval last weekend. Now Busch comes to the Monster Mile sixth overall in the Chase standings and looking to avoid elimination as we begin the run up to the Round of 8. The good news is that we're visiting an oval that rewarded the Stewart Haas Racing veteran with an impressive fifth-place finish in May. That effort bucked his historical record at the Monster Mile, and snapped a three-race Top-10 drought for Busch at this facility. The one-mile and smaller ovals have been good to this driver and team in 2018. Busch won at the similarly banked oval in Bristol during August and he sports a 10.8 average finish on these size ovals this season.

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

Clint Bowyer - Bowyer has a great career history at the Monster Mile and has cracked the Top 10 at a strong 56-percent rate here over the years. That's 14 total Top 10s in 25 starts. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran enters Sunday's Delaware 400 on a two-race Dover Top-10 streak. He finished sixth in this event one year ago, and finished a brilliant runner-up here in May. That last performance stands out for the No. 14 Ford team. Bowyer led 40 laps and looked for a time like he was going to win the AAA 400, but it just wasn't in the cards. He could be surprisingly fast again Sunday in this 400-lap battle.

Ryan Blaney -
Blaney has been bucking trends lately. His surprising win at the Charlotte Roval this past weekend is a great example. The short tracks have given him difficulty this season, but he broke that trend recently at Bristol. The Penske Racing driver is racing to stay alive in the Chase and advance, so there is some urgency at hand. Blaney has five-career starts at the Monster Mile, and two Top-10 finishes. The last came in May's AAA 400. He qualified 14th on the starting grid and peddled to a strong eighth-place finish in that outing. We don't expect to see Blaney back in victory lane this weekend, but there's no reason the driver of the No. 12 Ford can't labor to another Top-10 finish.

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star limps into Dover this weekend after a rough start to the Chase and elimination last weekend at Charlotte. Hamlin doesn't advance in the playoffs, but that shouldn't stop him from a good run at the Monster Mile. Dover International Speedway has not been a venue of consistency for this driver and team until just recently. 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 five Dover races. More recently, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota started 10th on the grid here in May and finished seventh in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism. The high banks of Dover really favor Hamlin rebounding this weekend.

Aric Almirola -
The fourth and last of the Stewart Haas Racing drivers checks in on our sleepers list this week. Almirola threw a Hail Mary at the Charlotte Roval this past week and his prayers were answered. His struggling 19th-place finish was just good enough to get him into the Round of 12 on points. Almirola is alive for another three races, and will look forward to a friendlier oval this weekend. He started the Chase well with Top 10s at Las Vegas and Richmond, and we expect to see a return to that form at the Monster Mile. His career stats at this facility aren't the greatest with just three Top-10 finishes in 12 starts, but the average is a respectable 16.5. His effort here in May is more representative of his potential. Almirola peddled to an 11th-place finish in the AAA 400. We could see him better that mark in the Delaware 400.

Jamie McMurray -
The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran is not a part of the Chase playoffs, but he's racing strong down the stretch to audition for a new ride next season. These last starts of 2018 will be McMurray's last lines in his racing resume for any new teams to review. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has Top-10 finishes in three of his last five races entering the weekend, and has generally been performing well. His Dover experience is pretty vast with 31-career starts, although the Top-10 rate is a bit low at just 29-percent. More recent outings have been above his career average. Four of McMurray's last seven starts at the Monster Mile have netted Top-10 finishes. That includes his ninth-place finish in this event one year ago. The signs look pretty positive for this driver and team in Chase race number four.

Matt Kenseth -
The driver with the great Monster Mile pedigree this weekend is Kenseth. The veteran Roush Fenway Racing driver has been solid as a rock at this one-mile oval over his 19-year career. The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for him to pick up a good finish as this season, and part-time driving gig with the No. 6 Ford team wind down. 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 63-percent rate. Trevor Bayne cracked the Top 20 with this team at Dover in May, and we suspect Kenseth will be a bit better than that Sunday afternoon.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Joey Logano - The Penske Racing star managed to come out of Charlotte last weekend with a 10th-place finish on the wild Charlotte Roval. That keeps his playoff and championship hopes alive coming to the Monster Mile. However, the history and trends here point to a subpar outing for the No. 22 Ford team this Sunday. Logano has 19-career starts at this facility and 10 Top-10 finishes. That works out to a respectable 52-percent rate. Normally, that alone would endorse a fantasy racing start. However, times have been much leaner for this driver at team at Dover than earlier in Logano's career. He's failed to crack the Top 10 here in his last three starts, and Logano's average finish over that span is 17.7. That's well below where we expect Logano to be each week.

Erik Jones -
The Joe Gibbs Racing sensation had a good run this season. Jones won his first-career Cup race, and he nabbed 14 Top-10 finishes during the NASCAR regular season. However, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota has had a meltdown during the Chase with finishes of 40th-, 11th-, and 30th-place, and that resulted in Jones getting booted from the playoffs after the Charlotte Roval. The pressure is off the young driver this week, but Jones faces a tough test in the Monster Mile. His three prior starts at this one-mile oval have netted finishes of 15th-, 12th- and 18th-place. While that's not all bad, it's certainly below where this driver and team have been performing most of the season. The current string of bad luck, coupled with his Dover efforts point to a fantasy racing bench this week.

Paul Menard -
Menard has just never fared well on the high banks of Dover for whatever reason. The Wood Brothers Racing veteran has 22-career starts at this facility, but only three Top-10 finishes in hand. With a modest 10 Top-20 finishes at this facility during that span, his average finish is slotting right at 20.2. Menard has been less than mid-pack at the Monster Mile in recent finishes. Efforts of 22nd-, 33rd-, 26th- and 34th-place have been his recent body of work. That average works out to a lowly 28.8. High banked ovals have not been good for Menard of late. His crash and 36th-place finish recently at Bristol is evidence of that problem.

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 10-career starts at DIS, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has come away with six finishes outside the Top 20. With only one Top-10 finish in those 10 starts, his average finish stands a lofty 22.3. The Richard Childress Racing stumbled last weekend at the Charlotte Roval with a crash and 39th-place finish. Dillon was eliminated from the Chase at the wave of that checkered flag. He's reeling coming to one of his more difficult ovals on the circuit. Dover is Dillon's worst short track, and sixth-worst track overall in terms of average finish.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS:  AutoTrader EchoPark  Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  SpeedyCash.com 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks: SpeedyCash.com 250