Drydene 400 Preview: The Round of 12 Begins

Drydene 400 Preview: The Round of 12 Begins

This article is part of our NASCAR DFS 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 4 after the finish last weekend at the Charlotte Roval, and now only 12 drivers will 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 shootout this weekend.  The driver that shows up with the best race car on Sunday will likely have a decent shot at winning the Drydene 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 event 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 29 races at Dover.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson8.96731,3922,7149,710113.3
Chase Elliott4.42261472942,699108.3
Kyle Busch14.67536721,2109,290104.6
Kyle Larson8.02762504633,317100.6
Martin Truex Jr.12.66536578777,79199.0
Kevin Harvick13.36317971,3107,89996.0
Brad Keselowski13.24212743945,30792.9
Clint Bowyer13.2656316837,44490.1
Daniel Suarez7.612737211,61389.9
Kurt Busch16.96583854137,41289.4
Erik Jones11.01333201,53987.3
Joey Logano13.2558131265,93386.8
Denny Hamlin17.56072022766,70185.3
Ryan Newman16.04961762476,28783.1
Ryan Blaney19.31312601,74481.6
Aric Almirola16.220893642,19876.0
William Byron13.75617550774.3
Austin Dillon20.71925601,73469.8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20.520150341,63168.0
Paul Menard19.92527102,01266.3

While each different manufacturer has won in the last three Dover races, three of the last six Dover races have gone to Toyota drivers.  Joe Gibbs Racing have taken two of those wins (Kyle Busch & Martin Truex Jr.) and the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing and Truex Jr. seized the other.  Toyota's string at the Monster Mile has been briefly interrupted by Chase Elliott and Chevrolet's win at the one-mile oval in this event one year ago, and Kevin Harvick and Ford's victory here in May of last 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 Drydene 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.  Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. would dominate most of the race, and it would be Truex that would just simply run away and hide at the end.  He would take the lead for the final time on lap 348 and run out to a 9+ second margin of victory over Alex Bowman.  It was Truex's third-career win at the Monster Mile and put Toyota back on top of the heap at this oval, at least for the time being.  Considering that Truex is looking to stay a leg up at this point in the Chase for the Cup, this is a timely visit to Dover International Speedway.  For the driver of the No. 19 Toyota, it's an opportunity to punch his ticket to the next round of the Chase and take one step closer to a second championship.  Before you get the sense that Truex and Elliott will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where they left off in May, we must not forget about Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.  These two represent the best opportunity for Ford to upstage Toyota this weekend.  Keep a close eye on the No. 4 and No. 2 Fords 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

Chase Elliott Coming off an exciting victory on the Charlotte Roval, Elliott advances into the Round of 12 in the Chase.  Now we visit one of the young driver's better ovals on the circuit.  Dover International Speedway gives Elliott the chance to keep the momentum rolling and secure his spot in the next round of the Chase for the Cup.  Elliott has seven-career starts at this track, and six of them are Top-5 finishes.  He won this event one year ago, and he finished runner-up in this event two seasons ago.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the pole and finished fifth here in May of this year, and that gives Elliott close to 300 laps led in his last four starts combined at the Monster Mile.  The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has the current momentum and skill to win Sunday at Dover.      

Martin Truex Jr. The last few weeks have been a wild ride for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team.  Truex has dominated in one form or fashion each of the last three races, and has come away with two victories in those starts.  He's in great position in the points, but would like to get a victory and lock into the next round of the Chase.  Truex won this event three years ago for his second-career victory at the Monster Mile, and he won earlier this season at DIS for his third-career victory at the track.  Truex, a New Jersey native, has always considered the Dover events a home-coming of sorts so he looks forward to racing here.  He has five Dover Top 5's in the last six attempts coming into Sunday afternoon and that includes over 470 laps led during the six-race span.  Right now the Joe Gibbs Racing star is performing well enough to win any given weekend. 

Kevin Harvick Harvick is a great fantasy racing play this weekend.  He's coming off a great third-place finish at the Charlotte Roval, and he's currently riding a five-race Top-10 streak into Dover International Speedway.  Harvick has two wins and 18-career Top-10 finishes at this one-mile oval and the two victories have come since the 2015 season.  He's won two pole positions, and led well over 1,400 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. 

Kyle Larson The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has been finding more speed each week, but that elusive first victory of 2019 is still somewhere in the shadows.  Larson made the Chase for the Cup for the fourth-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 eight Top 10's in 11-career starts.  He scored a pair of runner-up finishes at the Monster Mile during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, so he likes this one-mile oval.  Larson started on the inside of row 2 here in May, but failed to lead a lap around the high banks of DIS.  He still finished an impressive third-place at the end of that afternoon.  If there's a wildcard in the deck with a chance of upstaging the prime contenders, it's this Chip Ganassi Racing star.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star is riding a three-race Top-5 streak into the Monster Mile, and five of his last six starts have netted Top-5 finishes.  Keselowski is red hot.  Dover International Speedway is not his best oval, but he does have one-career victory here as well as eight Top-10 finishes (42-percent).  The veteran driver has led in excess of 150 laps combined in just his last three Dover starts.  That means he's racing at the front, but of late he's not been fetching the finishes he deserves.  We believe that will change in Sunday's Drydene 400.  Keselowski's 13.2 career average finish at the Monster Mile places him among the elite drivers in NASCAR.  Considering his recent string of success, he should be a Top-5 threat this Sunday afternoon.          

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 62-percent Top-10 rate, but his average finish is higher than normal due to seven-career DNF's at this track.  His last four starts at DIS have fetched 1st-, 35th-, eighth- and 10th-place finishes, so you can see he's a bit all over.  However, Busch's homerun potential is too good to ignore in the Drydene 400.

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 15 total Top 10's in 27 starts.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran enters Sunday's Drydene 400 with three Top-10 finishes in his last four Monster Mile starts.  He finished ninth here in May of this year with a strong performance in the Gander RV 400.  Bowyer could be surprisingly fast again Sunday in this 400-lap battle.  The driver of the No. 14 Ford Mustang has five Top-10 finishes in his last six starts, so Bowyer is heating up at the right time.  At four races into the playoffs this driver and team are in a good position to advance with a food finish Sunday at Dover.

Alex Bowman One of the drivers that stood out here in May of this year was Bowman and his No. 88 Chevrolet team.  The young driver qualified very well (third row) led 16 laps and finished runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. that afternoon.  It was one of the best early-season performances of the year for Bowman.  He'll look to recreate that success in Sunday's Drydene 400.  That effort in May's Gander RV 400 stands as Bowman's career-best performance at the Monster Mile, but he'll hope it's not his last.  The Hendrick Motorsports youngster is fresh off a runner-up finish at the Charlotte Roval, and has two Top 10's in the first three races of the Chase.  Bowman appears focused like a laser, and this team is giving him fast race cars right now.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Dover & solid upside

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.  Logano spent most of August mired in a slump, and he's been slowly clawing out of the hole most of September.  He's back in Top-10 form, but not quite back to race-winning form.  Dover should give him a chance to keep building momentum.  Logano rides a two-race Dover Top-10 streak into Sunday's action, and he cracks the Top 10 at the Monster Mile at a career 57-percent rate.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has never won at the concrete oval, so don't expect any surprises.  However, Logano should forge another hard-fought Top-10 finish.  

Jimmie Johnson Johnson fought for a strong ninth-place finish at Charlotte this past week, and he now has finishes of 11th-, 10th- and ninth-place in the last three events.  It's too bad that the veteran driver missed the cut for the Chase as he's racing pretty well since the playoffs started.  Johnson is the active wins leader at the Monster Mile with 11 total victories, the latest coming in 2017.  The seven-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion has led 3,109-career laps at the Delaware oval.  No other driver has dominated at this track over the years like Johnson.  The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has great potential in this race, so don't let his Chase for the Cup elimination deter his fantasy racing use in the Drydene 400.

Ryan Blaney Blaney has been bucking trends all season long.  His surprising short track performances this season are a great example.  The short tracks have typically given him difficulty, but he broke that cycle in 2019.  The Penske Racing driver is racing to stay alive in the Chase and advance, so there is some urgency at hand.  Blaney has seven-career starts at the Monster Mile, and just two Top-10 finishes.  His last two efforts on the high banks of this Delaware oval netted 11th- and 15th-place finishes.  We have good reason to believe he'll be much better this time around.  Blaney's strong twin efforts this season on the high banks of Bristol are a good barometer of potential.  With three Top 10's in his last four starts entering this weekend, the No. 22 Ford team are coming to Dover in pretty good shape.        

Denny Hamlin The Joe Gibbs Racing star limps into Dover this weekend after a subpar effort last weekend at Charlotte.  Hamlin is still very much alive in the playoffs, and should race with some real urgency at the Monster Mile.  Dover International Speedway has not been a venue of consistency for this driver and team until more recent seasons.  He's won three pole positions and qualified very well at the Monster Mile since the 2012 season.  That good starting track position has paid off with Top-10 finishes in five of the last seven Dover races.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry peddled to an impressive runner-up finish in this event one year ago.  That performance highlights Hamlin's potential in the Drydene 400.  The high banks of Dover really favor this veteran driver rebounding this weekend.

William Byron The fourth and last of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers checks in on our sleepers list this week.  Byron threw a Hail Mary pass at the Charlotte Roval this past week and his prayers were answered.  His pole position and strong sixth-place finish was just good enough to get him into the Round of 12 on points.  Byron is alive for another three races, and will look forward to a friendlier oval this weekend.  He started the Chase well with Top 10's at Las Vegas and the Roval, and we expect to see that form continue at the Monster Mile.  Byron has just three-career starts at the Monster Mile, but the average finish is a respectable 13.7.  His effort here in May is more representative of his potential.  Byron won the pole and peddled to an eighth-place finish in the Gander RV 400.  We could see him better that mark in the Drydene 400.

Daniel Suarez The driver with the great Monster Mile resume this weekend is Suarez.  The young Stewart Haas Racing driver has been solid as a rock at this one-mile oval over his three-season career.  The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for him to pick up a good finish, and rebound from his disappointing Roval outing last weekend.  Suarez has one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in his five-career starts at Dover International Speedway.  The average finish stands at a stellar 7.6 across the span, and that makes Dover easily his best track on the circuit.  The driver of the No. 41 Ford led 21 laps here in May of this year and cruised to an 11th-place finish.  We should be in for more of the same Sunday afternoon at the Monster Mile.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kurt Busch What started as such a promising season for Busch and the No. 1 Chevrolet team turned to dust at the Charlotte Roval last weekend.  The veteran driver labored to a 20th-place finish and as a result was eliminated from the Chase for the Cup.  Busch will hope to rebound this weekend, but the reality is that this driver and team are mired in a slump right now.  Busch had a miserable month of September, and comes to Dover in a four-race Top-10 drought.  He's had a tumultuous relationship with the Monster Mile over the years.  Busch's 11-career Top 10's at the track only check in at a lowly 29-percent rate.  That's in line with his recent outings of two Top-10 finishes in his last six starts.  It's best to pass up Busch and the No. 1 CGR team this weekend.   

Erik Jones The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster had a good run most of this season.  Jones grabbed his second-career win at Darlington during the summer and he's posted 13 Top-10 finishes so far.  However, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota has had a meltdown the last month with finishes of 39th-, 36th-, 38th- and 40th-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 five prior starts at this one-mile oval have only netted two Top-10 finishes (40-percent).  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.

David Ragan Ragan has just never fared well on the high banks of Dover for whatever reason.  The Front Row Motorsports veteran has 26-career starts at this facility, and no Top-10 finishes in hand.  With a modest five Top-20 finishes at this facility during that 13-season span, his average finish is slotting right at 24.5.  Ragan has been less than mid-pack at the Monster Mile in recent finishes.  Two of his last six attempts at the Dover oval have resulted in finishes of 30th or worse.  That average works out to a lowly 26.3.  High banked ovals have not been good for Ragan of late.  His crash and 36th-place finish recently at Bristol is evidence of that problem. 

Daniel Hemric After receiving news that Hemric will be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season in the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet, things have been tough for the rookie driver.  Hemric has had a rough go really for most of the summer.  His 33rd-place finish this past week at the Charlotte Roval is just the most recent example of his struggles.  Hemric will press on at Dover this week, but hope for a rebound performance seems slim at best.  The young driver's Cup debut at the Monster Mile earlier this season resulted in a subpar 25th-place finish, six laps down to the leaders that afternoon in May.  The No. 8 Chevrolet team is reeling right now, and Hemric is a shaky fantasy racing play at best. 

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire.
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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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