Gander RV 400 Preview: The Monster Mile

Gander RV 400 Preview: The Monster Mile

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

Dover International Speedway plays host to this week's Gander RV 400.  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-plus 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 2019 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 11 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

Dover International Speedway plays host to this week's Gander RV 400.  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-plus 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 2019 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 11 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.  The Dover oval is such a unique animal that those who have historically performed well here tend to edge out those current streaking drivers.  They are easily identified in the table below.  The loop stats cover the last 14 years or 28 races at Dover International Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson8.86371,3902,7109,331114.4
Kyle Busch14.87086511,2098,918105.2
Chase Elliott4.31981001492,301105.0
Kyle Larson8.52412244632,92299.1
Martin Truex Jr.13.06215777457,43997.8
Kevin Harvick13.65987611,3097,49995.2
Brad Keselowski13.23962623364,92492.4
Daniel Suarez6.8931101,29492.2
Kurt Busch17.06303774137,22490.0
Clint Bowyer13.3619309837,05989.8
Denny Hamlin17.45861972766,62786.2
Joey Logano13.6529119105,60686.2
Erik Jones12.31032101,14885.3
Ryan Newman16.04901752476,28183.9
Ryan Blaney20.01092301,37980.2
Aric Almirola16.218387641,93076.1
Austin Dillon20.81755601,64870.2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.519346341,52968.8
William Byron16.5137022168.0
Paul Menard20.02426901,90166.2

The Monster Mile used to be one of Ford's most successful venues in the Monster Energy Cup Series.  However, Chevrolet and Toyota drivers have changed that in recent years.  Drivers from the bowtie and Toyota camps have reeled off five of the last six victories at the Monster Mile, leaving Ford with the table crumbs.  Kevin Harvick won this event one year ago for Ford and that has been the lone bright spot for this manufacturer at the one-mile Delaware oval since the 2011 season.  With most Ford stars racing well right now, it will be interesting to see if a driver from this camp can retake the throne at Dover International Speedway.

NASCAR's top division returned to the Monster Mile last October, and it would be Chase Elliott taking Chevrolet back to victory lane at the facility.  Coming off the huge Talladega victory this past week, the No. 9 team must surely be eager to get to the Monster Mile this week and defend their Dover win of just a few months ago.  The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing will look to rebound from a poor Talladega performance and once again be dominant on a track one-mile in size or smaller.  Kyle Busch was the last Dover victor for Toyota, and it came in the fall 2017 race at the Monster Mile.  Martin Truex Jr. also has a recent win at the facility with his fall 2016 win at the Monster Mile.  Those two would appear to be the top contenders for that manufacturer.  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 Gander RV 400.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle BuschBusch saw his season-long Top-10 streak extended at Talladega last week.  It was a tough feat, but he crossed the finish line 10th for his 10th-consecutive Top 10 of the season.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota is a three-time winner at DIS, and he sports a staggering 43-percent Top-5 rate at the track.  Busch's victory and runner-up finishes here since the 2015 season has rekindled his excellence at the Monster Mile.  The last time the Cup Series visited Delaware, Busch won the pole position, led 21 laps and finished eighth in last October's Gander Outdoors 400.  Considering how well he's racing this season, and his recent win on the high banks of the Bristol oval, we have to give Busch top contender status this weekend at the Monster Mile.

Chase Elliott The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team finally broke through for their first win of the season last weekend at Talladega, and Elliott's first-ever superspeedway victory.  He should be fast once again at the Monster Mile this week.  The young driver has made only six-career starts at Dover International Speedway, but they've been eye-popping efforts.  Elliott has five Top-5 finishes in those starts, with the most impressive being his last performance.  He qualified ninth on the starting grid and overcame a number of stars to grab the win in the Gander Outdoors 400.  That victory has lowered Elliott's average finish at the Monster Mile to a miniscule 4.3.  Coming off the big Talladega win, it's going to be hard to bet against this driver and team in the Gander RV 400. 

Martin Truex Jr. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has been hit-or-miss the last few weeks between the short tracks and the expansive oval of Talladega.  There's good reason believe he'll rebound to contender status once again this weekend at Dover.  The one-mile oval has been one of his better tracks during his 14-season Monster Energy Cup Series career.  Truex has three pole positions, two victories and 14 Top-10 finishes in his 26 starts at the Monster Mile.  That works out to a strong 13.0 average finish for his career at the Delaware oval.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has won or finished inside the Top 4 in four of his last five starts at DIS, and over that span he's led a whopping 340 laps.  Truex has grown to love racing this track later in his career, and we don't see that changing in this 400-lap battle. 

Joey Logano The Penske Racing driver is riding the momentum of his good Talladega performance and Top-5 finish into this weekend's action at Dover.  Logano has quite a streak of recent consistency at the Monster Mile coming into the Gander RV 400 this Sunday afternoon.  Logano has 11-career Top-10 finishes at DIS, and that places his career Top-10 rate at 55-percent at this challenging facility.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford enters the Dover race second in the driver standings and looking to improve his position for the upcoming Chase.  A win at Dover would help in that regard.  These are all encouraging indicators for the young driver.  With the recent career record at the Monster Mile it's impossible to imagine that Logano won't be racing among the leaders this Sunday afternoon.

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

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 just barely outside the Top 5 in driver rating in the above loop stats table.  However, Harvick is a two-time winner at the Monster Mile, and both of those victories have come since the 2015 season.  He led a combined 487 laps in the two races here last season, and walked away with a win and sixth-place finish.  The No. 4 SHR team is not in a good place right now, and Harvick is struggling after his Talladega DNF.  Dover is just the kind of place that could get him back on track, but proceed with caution.  This driver and team will need to impress us in Friday practice to instill some confidence prior to Sunday's race. 

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star is looking to rebound after his subpar finish at Talladega last Sunday.  Keselowski has shown some flashes of brilliance on the high banks of Dover.  The career numbers and even loop stats aren't that impressive for the driver of the No. 2 Ford, but his ability to finish well at this one-mile oval is undeniable.  Keselowski has one victory, two runner-up finishes and eight-career Top 10's at Dover International Speedway.  His effort in this event one year ago at DIS tallied 108 laps led and an impressive sixth-place finish in last season's AAA 400 Drive for Autism.  Keselowski isn't a major threat to win, but he should peddle that No. 2 Ford to yet another Top-10 finish at this high-banked oval.       

Denny Hamlin The Joe Gibbs Racing star as well as his teammates at JGR have enjoyed tremendous success at the Monster Mile in recent seasons.  Hamlin has been improving at the one-mile oval and the recent statistics bear this out.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota owns 11-career Top-10 finishes at this facility, and five of those have come in just the last six visits to the Delaware oval.  In this event one year ago Hamlin qualified inside the Top 10, and raced there most of the day before finishing a respectable seventh.  That's been typical of his recent outings at the Monster Mile.  After a disappointing DNF at Talladega, you can bet Hamlin will be one motivated driver visiting this one-mile oval. 

Kyle Larson Talladega was a complete disaster for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team.  Larson had a decent car, but racing back in the pack has its perils at Dega as Larson found out the hard way.  The talented young driver will look to rebound at one of his better small ovals this Sunday.  Larson has just 10-career starts at the Monster Mile, but they're starts that are packed full with results.  He has two runner-up finishes, four Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes in those efforts.  That puts his average finish at a sparkling 8.5 at the facility.  In this event one year ago, Larson piloted the No. 42 Chevrolet to the pole position and 10th-place finish.  You can bet the notes from that performance will come in handy for this driver and team again at Dover International Speedway.

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

Kurt Busch After picking up a sixth-place finish at Talladega this past week, the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has three Top 10's in the last four events heading to Dover this week.  Busch stands a steady eighth overall in the championship driver standings, and he's ready to tackle one of his tougher ovals on the circuit.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet is a one-time winner at the Monster Mile, and he has just 11 Top-10 finishes (30-percent) at the facility.  However, he's made a late-career surge at the one-mile oval, and that's not to be overlooked this weekend.  Busch raced well here last season and grabbed a pair of fifth-place finishes at Dover.  To prove that the high banks aren't that intimidating, Busch nabbed a runner-up finish recently at the similarly banked Bristol.  We get good vibes thinking about this driver and team for the Gander RV 400. 

Ryan Blaney This young driver had it tough in his first two seasons of racing at Dover International Speedway.  However, Blaney seemed to finally figure things out in 2018 at the challenging one-mile oval.  He piloted the No. 12 Ford to eighth- and 11th-place finishes at the Monster Mile last season, which were career-best marks for the young Penske Racing Phenom.  Blaney is beginning to reverse some of his early-career struggles on the smaller tracks, and that effort was in full view at Bristol a few weeks ago.  Sure, it's a half-sized version of Dover, but the racing can be quite similar in many respects.  Blaney led a whopping 158 laps, looked right at home and finished fourth in the Food City 500.  That could likely be a preview of what's to come at Dover this Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson The 11-time Dover winner can never be overlooked when visiting the Monster Mile.  While he hasn't shown the race-winning touch in some time, Johnson is gradually getting better each week this season.  His two Top 10's in the last four events show the gathering momentum of the No. 48 team.  Johnson loves the high-speed mixing bowl in Delaware, as his 3,100+ career laps led attests.  So this is the perfect oval for the No. 48 team to visit given their current level of performance.  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.  He finished ninth in this event one year ago, and that's likely a good target for this 400-lap battle. 

Daniel Suarez With some really good performances in four of the last five races, Suarez brings some momentum to the Monster Mile this week.  The No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing team is clearly heating up.  Suarez has made four-career starts at the Monster Mile and he's walked away with Top-10 finishes in all four events.  This event one year ago was the best of the bunch with a seventh-place qualifying effort and third-place finish in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.  It seems that high banked ovals are really to this young Mexican's liking.  Recently, Suarez nabbed a respectable eighth-place finish at the similarly configured oval in Bristol, Tennessee.  This surging young driver is making a very timely visit to Dover International Speedway.

Clint Bowyer Bowyer has been a consistent performer at the Monster Mile for his entire career.  The driver of the No. 14 Ford has been building quite a Dover resume over the years.  Bowyer has 14 Top-10 finishes in 26-career starts, which works out to a strong 54-percent rate.  Even when he's not finishing inside the Top 10, he's staying on the lead lap and proving to be competitive.  Bowyer has only three finishes outside the Top 15 since the 2011 season at Dover International Speedway.  In this event one year ago at the Monster Mile, Bower earned a great runner-up finish in last year's AAA 400 Drive for Autism.  It wouldn't be surprising to see him racing among the leaders this Sunday afternoon at Dover.

Ryan Newman The 41-year-old veteran just continues to prove his worth in terms of fantasy racing with his good performances in 2019.  Newman's Top-10 finish at Bristol, and his Top-10 finish last weekend at Talladega are good examples of this fact.  He's no longer a threat to win races, but he's visiting the Top 10 or Top 15 more often than not most weeks.  Newman's three-career victories and 14 Top-10 finishes at Dover make this one of his more successful ovals in his 17 years of NASCAR racing.  He finished a stellar fourth in this event two years ago, and the Roush Fenway Racing veteran returned in that fall and recorded a steady 13th-place finish in that 400-lap battle.  Newman's ninth-place effort at Bristol a few weeks ago is a good mark to expect at the Monster Mile.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Aric Almirola The Stewart Haas Racing veteran is a weekly fantasy racing play in weekly lineup leagues.  Almirola does have his spots though where he needs to be benched in favor of better performing drivers.  His career-long work at the Monster Mile has been fair-to-poor with three Top 10's in 13-career starts and a fair 16.2 average finish.  Almirola has been much better than these marks on various intermediate ovals and short tracks.  So his improvement since moving to Stewart Haas Racing has translated to most tracks, but with Dover not so much.  It's fair to say Almirola will likely be a middle-teens finisher this Sunday, but is that really getting the most out of a fantasy racing start with this driver and team? 

Austin Dillon Despite registering a seventh-place Dover finish last October, we're going to recommend against utilizing Dillon and the No. 3 team this Sunday.  For all it's worth, that performance stands apart from his six seasons of racing at this one-mile oval.  In 11 starts Dillon has just two Top-10 finishes and only one other Top-15 finish at the Monster Mile.  The average finish stands at a lofty 20.9 across the 11 starts.  The problems seem to start with poor qualifying performances, which then lead to race-long struggles in these 400-lap brawls.  Dillon labored hard and finished 26th in his start in this event one year ago.  That could be the Dillon we see at the Monster Mile this Sunday afternoon. 

Alex Bowman His only two-career starts at the Monster Mile came last season.  Bowman and the No. 88 Chevrolet team struggled in those outings registering 23rd- and 28th-place finishes.  Bowman qualified fairly well in those races, but he could not keep up with the changing race track and could not maintain the lead lap for 400 miles.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver's recent struggles at the similarly banked Bristol Motor Speedway are likely a big concern.  Bowman labored that day to a 23rd-place finish on the high banks of Bristol.  It's for these reasons that we believe this driver and team should be benched for the Gander RV 400.

Paul Menard Menard's 12 seasons of racing at the Monster Mile have compiled little in the way of accomplishments.  While those 23 starts have come across five different NASCAR teams, the results have been nearly the same no matter whose car he's been sitting in.  Three of those 23 starts have been converted into Top-10 finishes.  Only one other of those starts even netted a Top-15 finish.  It all adds up to an average finish of 20.0 for the Wood Brothers Racing driver at Dover International Speedway.  He ran into trouble in this event one year ago and labored to a 34th-place finish in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.  It's best to pass on Menard this weekend 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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