NASCAR Preview: Monster Mile Doubleheader

NASCAR Preview: Monster Mile Doubleheader

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

Dover International Speedway plays host to this week's pair of races at the historic one-mile oval.  This is the NASCAR Cup Series first and last visit of the season to the concrete oval in Delaware.  Once again we're playing catchup to make up for May's postponed Dover 400 and combine it with August's Drydene 400.  The new events are Saturday and Sunday with each race bearing the name Drydene 311.  We're running shorter distances than the planned 400s but running 311 laps each day this weekend at the Monster Mile. 

Dover International Speedway is known as the "Monster Mile" 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, 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 our only and only visit of 2020 at the Monster Mile, the learning curve will be steep this weekend.  From the drop of the green flag, the teams that can adapt to the

Dover International Speedway plays host to this week's pair of races at the historic one-mile oval.  This is the NASCAR Cup Series first and last visit of the season to the concrete oval in Delaware.  Once again we're playing catchup to make up for May's postponed Dover 400 and combine it with August's Drydene 400.  The new events are Saturday and Sunday with each race bearing the name Drydene 311.  We're running shorter distances than the planned 400s but running 311 laps each day this weekend at the Monster Mile. 

Dover International Speedway is known as the "Monster Mile" 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, 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 our only and only visit of 2020 at the Monster Mile, the learning curve will be steep this weekend.  From the drop of the green flag, the teams that can adapt to the track the quickest will be the ones to succeed this weekend's doubleheader.  These are races 24 and 25 of the season, so urgency to better one's position in the driver standings will be off the charts at the Dover oval.  The cutoff for the Chase for the Cup looms large ahead and the action will pick up and drivers scramble to make the playoff field or improve their seeding in it.  

Since this is our first visit 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 15 years or 30 races at Dover International Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson8.97111,4282,71510,110112.9
Matt Kenseth11.96475568458,729105.8
Kyle Busch14.38046951,2109,683104.3
Martin Truex Jr.12.26877158928,18799.8
Chase Elliott8.62261472942,70598.2
Kevin Harvick13.06668251,3108,29696.6
Brad Keselowski13.14532783945,70392.4
Clint Bowyer13.1682319837,82589.8
Kurt Busch16.66893914167,81189.4
Daniel Suarez8.713945221,71387.5
Erik Jones11.71663501,92887.4
Denny Hamlin17.16362404947,10086.9
Joey Logano14.2558150265,93384.6
Ryan Newman16.25031782476,29282.4
Ryan Blaney21.31513002,03781.6
William Byron13.59425689280.6
Aric Almirola16.322294642,27776.1
Austin Dillon20.52015801,73769.3
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20.221253341,64968.3
Alex Bowman22.8134111421,14268.0

The Monster Mile used to be one of Ford's most successful venues in the NASCAR Cup Series.  However, Chevrolet and Toyota drivers have changed that in recent years.  Drivers from the bowtie and Toyota camps have reeled off three-straight victories at the Monster Mile, leaving Ford with the table scraps.  Kevin Harvick was the last Dover victor for Ford which came back in early 2018.  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 this weekend.

The last time NASCAR's top division raced at the Monster Mile was last October, and it would be Kyle Larson taking Chevrolet back to victory lane at the facility.  With Larson no longer competing in NASCAR, he won't be around to defend his race crown this week.  It will have to be another Chevy driver that will fill that void.  Chase Elliott won the fall 2018 installment at the one-mile track, and will look to head up this manufacturer's assault on the doubleheader weekend at Dover.

The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing will look to building on their good Daytona road course performance and once again be dominant on a track one-mile in size or smaller.  Martin Truex Jr. was the last Dover victor for Toyota, and it came in the spring of last year at the Monster Mile.  That was his third-career win at the facility he considers to be his "hometown track."  We'll outline the drivers who will likely dominate and a few others about to make surprise runs at Dover International Speedway this weekend in the Drydene 311s.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star has elevated his game at the Monster Mile in recent seasons.  Harvick is a two-time winner at Dover International Speedway, and both of those victories have come since the 2015 season.  He led a combined 487 laps in the two races here in 2018, and he nabbed a pair of Top-5 finishes at the oval last season.  Harvick rides a four-race Dover Top-10 streak into this weekend's doubleheader.  The last time we saw this driver and team in action on a high-banked short track, Harvick was peddling to an impressive third-place finish in the All-Star Race at Bristol in July.  He has race-winning potential in both of these 311-lap events.    

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 12-career Top-10 finishes at this facility, and three of those have come in just the last four visits to the Delaware oval.  In October of 2018 Hamlin collected a career-best runner-up result at this track, and in last October's Drydene 400 he led a career-best 218 laps and finished fifth after starting on the pole.  Hamlin has never won in 28 Cup Series starts at this facility, but he has a very good chance of grabbing his first Monster Mile victory this weekend. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has been just one step behind both Harvick and Hamlin the last several races.  However, there's good reason believe he can upstage the dynamic duo this weekend at his home track of Dover.  The one-mile oval has been one of his better tracks during his 15-season Monster Energy Cup Series career.  Truex has three pole positions, three victories and 16 Top-10 finishes in his 28 starts at the Monster Mile.  That works out to a strong 12.2 average finish for his career at the Delaware oval.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has won or finished inside the Top 4 in six of his last seven starts at DIS, and over that span he's led close to 500 laps.  Truex has grown to love racing this track later in his career, and we don't see that changing in this Dover doubleheader. 

Chase Elliott – The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team finally broke through for their second win of the season last weekend at the Daytona road course.  He should be fast once again at the Monster Mile this week.  The young driver has made only eight-career starts at Dover International Speedway, but they've been eye-popping efforts.  Elliott has six Top-5 finishes in those starts, with the most impressive being his victory here in the fall of 2018.  May of last year he nabbed his first Dover pole position and led 145 laps that afternoon before finishing fifth in the Gander RV 400.  His average finish at this one-mile oval is a miniscule 8.6 and that really displays this young driver's skill for this track.

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

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star is looking to rebound after his subpar finish at Daytona 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 at the similarly configured oval of Bristol in May of this year yielded an impressive victory.  Despite that performance, 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.      

Kyle Busch – Busch saw his struggles continue at the Daytona road course this past week, but he'll look to rebound on the much friendlier high banks of Dover.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota is a three-time winner at DIS, and he sports a staggering 40-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 finished sixth-place in last October's Drydene 400.  Considering that the smaller ovals have been much better tracks for Busch this season, he should have little trouble cracking the Top 10 and possibly challenging the Top 5 in these twin Monster Mile races this weekend.

Kurt Busch – The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has five Top 10's in his last seven races heading into Dover this week.  Busch stands a steady ninth-place 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 12 Top-10 finishes (31-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 13th- and ninth-place finishes at Dover.  To prove that the high banks aren't that intimidating, Busch nabbed a solid seventh-place finish recently at the similarly banked Bristol short track.  We get good vibes thinking about this driver and team for the Drydene 311's.    

Erik Jones – Jones seems to have rebounded well from the news that he will not be with Joe Gibbs Racing next season. The young driver peddled to a steady 11th-place finish on the challenging Daytona road course last Sunday.  Jones will look to follow up well on one of his better ovals this weekend at Dover.  His last three starts at the Monster Mile have netted two Top 10's and three Top 15's. The average finish across the span stands at an impressive 8.3.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota's work on the similar banked oval in Bristol this season is not to be overlooked.  Jones nabbed a strong fifth-place finish in the Food City 500 in late May.  The youngster is looking for a new racing gig in 2021, so you know Jones will be motivated to succeed in the Dover doubleheader.  

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Dover & solid upside

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing driver is riding the momentum of a four-race Top-10 streak into this weekend's action at Dover.  Logano has quite a streak of recent consistency at the Monster Mile coming into the Drydene 311's this weekend.  Logano has 12-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 sixth-place in the driver standings and looking to improve his position for the upcoming Chase.  This is not one of his better short tracks on the circuit, but as Logano has shown recently he has the wherewithal to crack the Top 10 at this facility like he has in two of his last three starts. 

Ryan Blaney – This young driver is coming off a pair of poor finishes at Michigan and Daytona and is looking to hit the reset button this weekend at the Monster Mile. That's our primary reason for not listing Blaney in the solid plays this week and sliding him to the sleepers list.  The No. 12 Penske Racing Ford team has shown some good speed on the high banks of Bristol earlier this season (60 laps led in the Food City 500, and 72 laps led in the All-Star Race) so there's some high ceiling potential with this driver and team this weekend.  However, it does come at a bit of a risk.  Blaney's two Dover Top-10 finishes in eight starts works out to a subpar 25-percent rate.  The average finish checks in around 21.2.  Those are not awe-inspiring numbers, but he still has the potential to outperform this week.  Proceed at your own risk in deploying him in weekly lineup leagues.

Jimmie Johnson – The 11-time Dover winner can never be overlooked when visiting the Monster Mile.  He hasn't shown the race-winning touch at this track in some time, but Johnson does possess Top-10 potential for these twin races.  His 11th- and fourth-place finishes the last two 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.  Johnson's last start at the Monster Mile netted a steady eighth-place finish in last October's Drydene 400.  That's like a good preview of his potential in these twin races this weekend. 

Alex Bowman – Someone flipped the switch on for Bowman and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team at Dover last season.  Up until that point, this young driver had tremendous struggles at the high-banked, one-mile oval.  Bowman led 16 laps and earned a surprising runner-up finish in the Gander RV 400, and then he returned last fall and followed up with an impressive third-place performance in the Drydene 400.  More recently, the high banked oval of Bristol which offers similar racing action yielded a Top-10 finish to Bowman in the All-Star Race.  Coming off a respectable 12th-place finish at the Daytona road course last Sunday, we see Bowman as a Top-15 candidate again with Top-10 upside in these Drydene 311's. 

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 16 Top-10 finishes in 28-career starts, which works out to a strong 57-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.  The recent proving grounds of Bristol offer a glimpse of his potential.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran slugged it out to a runner-up finish in the Food City 500 on that similarly banked oval.  It wouldn't be surprising to see him racing among the leaders this weekend at Dover.

William Byron – The young driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has just four-career Cup Series starts at the Monster Mile, but his best effort to-date came in last season's Gander RV 400.  Byron started on the outside pole, led 5 laps and finished a career-best eighth at Dover that day.  His fall follow-up performance at Dover wasn't as brilliant, but was still a respectable 13th-place finish in the Drydene 400.  Byron showed his high-banked track mettle with a strong eighth-place finish at Bristol in May and he led 35 laps and won a stage of the All-Star Open at Bristol in July.  This young driver and team have a lot of potential in these twin Dover races.  Byron could pay big fantasy racing dividends to those who deploy him at Dover International Speedway.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Newman – The 42-year-old veteran comes to Bristol in one of the biggest dry spells of his career.  With just one Top-10 finish for 2020, Newman visits the Monster Mile a career-worst 25th-place in the driver point standings.  His average finish for the campaign thus far is a lowly 19.1 which is the third-lowest mark of his 19-season career.  Dover offers a lot of challenges this weekend to this struggling driver.  Newman is a three-time winner at this facility, however, the last of those wins came way back in 2004.  His career Top-10 mark at this track is a lowly 39-percent and it's been trailing off in recent seasons.  Newman has failed to crack the Top 10 in his last five Dover starts.  His 22nd-place finish at the track last October is likely a similar mark to what he'll fetch this weekend.

Aric Almirola – The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has been a dependable weekly fantasy racing play for much of the season.  However, Almirola does have his spots where he needs to be benched in favor of better performing drivers.  Almirola's torrid summer hot streak ground to a halt somewhere between New Hampshire and Michigan, and its now time to step back.  His career-long work at the Monster Mile has been fair-to-poor with three Top 10's in 15-career starts and a fair 16.3 average finish.  Almirola has been much better than these marks on various intermediate ovals and short tracks.  His 16th- and 17th-place finishes at the Monster Mile last season are very telling.  It's fair to say Almirola will likely be a middle-teens finisher this weekend, but is that really getting the most out of a fantasy racing start with this driver and team? 

Matt Kenseth – Despite the three-career Dover wins, over 900 laps led and staggering 17 Top-5 finishes at the Monster Mile it's best to stay away from Kenseth again this week.  This one-mile oval was one of his favorites prior to his retirement.  The career-long 12.9 average finish is a testament to this fact.  Kenseth's tough season continued at the Daytona road circuit this past week with a lowly 26th-place finish.  That extended his current Top-10 drought to seven races.  Kenseth's last Cup Series start at Dover came in the fall of 2018 and was a disappointing 20th-place finish.  It's likely a good preview of what to expect from the No. 42 team this weekend. 

Tyler Reddick – There's enough evidence to suggest that Christopher Bell and Cole Custer could have a good weekend at Dover this week.  However, Reddick appears to be the rookie driver to avoid.  The Richard Childress Racing driver is the only one of the three to be winless for his Xfinity Series career at the Monster Mile, and his two Top 10's in five Xfinity Series starts (12.0 average finish) lags further behind the other two youngsters.  If Bristol earlier this season is any indication, the high banks could give Reddick problems.  He crashed and finished a distant 36th-place in the Food City 500.  This weekend's doubleheader will be Reddick's Cup Series debut at the Monster Mile.  He's likely going to learn a lot of lessons the hard way.

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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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