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AAA 400 Preview: Monster Mile Madness

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A four-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the 2016 Racing Writer of the Year. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup continues this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile is the perfect setup for the second race of the Chase. This oval 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. Whoever can show up with the best race car on Sunday will likely have a decent shot at winning the AAA 400. Roush Fenway Racing teams have had their fair share of success at Dover in over the years, so this event will be great news for Chase participants Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. The duo have combined for only one win in the 2010 season, but racing at the Monster Mile brings some championship hope to these drivers.

The races at Dover International Speedway are usually anything but dull. Most events are led by a number of drivers, and are usually very competitive. The parity that we currently have at this track is a good indicator of the entertainment factor associated with this race. Seldom do we ever see one driver run away and dominate at DIS. The schedule presents a very appropriate race and a challenge for the drivers in the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The Monster Mile is quite unique in configuration. It's comparable mostly to Bristol Motor Speedway, but much larger. With this in mind it will be really useful to take a look at the loop stats for this one-mile oval. For this race we will place a great deal of emphasis on the recent history of Dover International Speedway. The configuration and concrete surface here 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 11 races at Dover.

Jimmie Johnson7.52215621,0363,571113.8
Greg Biffle5.53383884634,049112.2
Matt Kenseth9.93153156493,846111.8
Carl Edwards7.03122962973,100102.2
Kyle Busch15.52462034013,054101.6
Mark Martin8.6233273693,343100.0
Ryan Newman12.6224952403,71596.8
Kurt Busch18.72401533123,10195.4
Jeff Gordon15.1254821143,07190.0
Clint Bowyer14.723010442,56889.5
Jeff Burton8.9260129552,87589.3
Martin Truex Jr.14.92111532182,23687.5
David Reutimann17.784442698781.4
Jamie McMurray20.5169761311,73579.7
Denny Hamlin22.815437611,76777.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.20.913511411,47575.9
Juan Pablo Montoya23.0946431,19075.4
Kevin Harvick18.11484611,91475.2
Kasey Kahne20.9134133521,78874.4
Tony Stewart19.31624561,91873.2

Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota have each won in the last four races at DIS. This manufacturer parity makes prognostication at the oval a bit difficult. This season's race in May at the Monster Mile bears close examination. Kyle Busch battled with Jimmie Johnson over the course of the 400 laps and came out on top in the end. It was his second career win at the facility and second in the last five races. Considering how hot the Joe Gibbs Racing star is entering the Chase for the Cup, he could give us a repeat performance this weekend. The only teams to give Busch-Johnson duo any competition that day were Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and David Reutimann. The trio led a combined 17 laps, but was nipping at the heels of Johnson and Busch the entire event. Before you get the sense that these two stars will return to Dover this weekend and pick up right where he left off in May, we must first realize how difficult it is to win at Dover. With the chase for the championship now squarely in play, don't rule out any surprise performances in the AAA 400. With the 12 drivers vying for the championship and the other teams in the hunt for that million dollar 13th-place spot in the standings, there's sure to be some madness at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson is quickly scrambling to find his groove again now that the Chase is under way. It's funny how the No. 48 team always seems to step up its performance when it's championship time. Johnson is the active wins leader at the Monster Mile with five, including two of the last three events at the track. The defending Sprint Cup Series champion has led 794 laps in his last three trips to the Delaware oval. That makes Johnson the 500-pound gorilla for this contest.

Carl Edwards
If Edwards hopes to make a run at the title, a great run and finish at Dover will be mandatory. The No. 99 team can't visit this track and post a mediocre finish if they hope to challenge for the championship. We expect Edwards to have his best on display this Sunday. He owns one victory and eight Top-10 finishes in 12 career starts at the Monster Mile and he's led close to 300 laps at the facility. Considering how good Edwards has been the last several weeks, it would be a shock to see him racing anywhere but up front at Dover.

Kyle Busch
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is on a roll and pointed towards this season's Sprint Cup Series championship. The No. 18 Toyota looked powerfully strong winning on the high banks of Bristol a few weeks ago, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see that strength displayed again this weekend in the AAA 400. Busch out-dueled Jimmie Johnson and won this May's Autism Speaks 400 at DIS, so we could be in for a repeat performance this Sunday afternoon.

Greg Biffle
Biffle's consistency has really picked up in the second half of this season. The victory at Pocono has propelled this No. 16 team into the Chase. Biffle has two career victories at the Monster Mile and his last win came in this event in 2008. Entering this weekend the veteran driver has led close to 500 laps at the one-mile Delaware oval, and he's seldom seen running outside the Top 10 there. This has been a good track for Roush Fenway Racing drivers over the years, so plan accordingly with your fantasy lineups.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are a near lock for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Tony Stewart
The No. 14 team is still battling some mediocrity issues as their 16th-place finish at Richmond and 24th-place let down last week at Loudon illustrates. Stewart is focused on the championship and he's going to have to go for broke this weekend to make it happen. He is a two-time winner at DIS, although those victories came much earlier in his Sprint Cup career. Stewart sports a career 65 percent Top 10 rate at the Monster Mile, including the last three straight races at the high-banked oval.

Matt Kenseth
The calculated risk is the No. 17 team this Sunday. Kenseth has been anything but consistent in the later half of this season, but his Dover excellence is hard to ignore. The Monster Mile presents the perfect opportunity for this veteran driver to rebound. Kenseth enters this event with five straight Top 5's at DIS, including a brilliant third-place effort in this season's Autism Speaks 400. You can't argue with results and this driver has them at this facility.

Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has been red hot since his win at Richmond to enter the Chase for the Cup. Dover International Speedway hasn't been his best track over the years, but he does have some recent success at this oval that we want to recap for this race. Hamlin raced up front and challenged the leaders the entire race in this season's Autism Speaks 400. He tied a career best with a fourth-place finish at the Monster Mile in May. Now that its crunch time for the championship we expect the Joe Gibbs Racing star to step up this weekend.

Jeff Burton
The No. 31 team brings some great momentum to Dover this weekend. Burton is racing with a purpose this season. While Dover International Speedway hasn't been one of his best tracks throughout his career, Burton has the mettle to pull a great finish in the AAA 400. When the Sprint Cup Series visited here in May, the Richard Childress Racing veteran posted one of his career best efforts at the one-mile oval. That runner-up finish was second only to his win here in 2006.

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

Kurt Busch
Penske Racing veteran Busch has been a spotty performer at Dover International Speedway, but his recent performances at the one-mile oval bear close examination. Busch led 99 laps and collected a pair of Top-5 finishes at DIS in 2009. While his 19th-place finish here in May of this year failed to measure up, we believe the urgency of the Chase will ratchet this team's performance up a few notches.

David Reutimann
The Monster Mile proved to be a great venue for Michael Waltrip Racing earlier this season. Reutimann and his teammate Martin Truex Jr. combined to win the pole, lead laps and race in the Top 10 throughout the day. The No. 00 team fared a bit better coming home with a fifth-place finish in the Autism Speaks 400. That was Reutimann's first career Top 10 at the one-mile oval but we guarantee it won't be his last.

Clint Bowyer
One of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series right now is Clint Bowyer. After his win at Loudon last week, he now has one victory and four straight Top-10 finishes in the last four races. Bowyer not only secured his spot in the field at Richmond a couple weeks ago, he's stepped up and is making a challenge for the championship. The Richard Childress Racing star should carry this momentum to the Monster Mile this week. Bowyer does own three career Top 10's at the oval, and he should push for a career-best finish on Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Newman
Newman is a great fantasy play this weekend. Most race fans aren't aware that the No. 39 team's driver is pretty solid at Dover. We can't forget some of the great finishes that Newman posted at DIS while with Penske Racing. Newman won three times earlier in his career at the Monster Mile and he carried that tradition forward to his new team when he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing. Two of his last three starts at the one-mile oval for his new boss have resulted in Top-10 finishes.

Martin Truex Jr.
The No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing team may be on the outside looking in at the Chase, but that won't stop Truex from posting some great finishes in the Chase for the Cup. He won at this Delaware oval in 2007 for former team Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he won the pole here in May of this year before finishing 12th in the Autism Speaks 400. Truex has shown real ability at the Monster Mile when his crew chief and teams gives him good cars to race.

A.J. Allmendinger
Kasey Kahne isn't the only RPM driver that will be making waves this Sunday afternoon at Dover. Allmendinger has had quite a season, and he's been a useful fantasy racing driver in weekly lineup leagues. The driver of the No. 43 Ford sits a respectable 22nd in the championship standings right now and he enters this race finishing well at DIS. Allmendinger has collected seventh- and14th-place finishes in his last two starts at the Monster Mile. Similar results should be in order for the AAA 400.

Paul Menard
If you're looking for a borderline Top-20 finisher and someone who'll stay out of trouble at Dover this Sunday, then look no further than Menard and his No. 98 team. He likes racing at this one-mile oval and he generally stays on the lead lap no matter how good his car is in a given race. Menard sports an average finish of 22.7 at the facility and his 19th- and 21st-place finishes there in the last two events back that up. Don't expect any miracles from this team, but he shouldn't hurt you in weekly lineup leagues either.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Mark Martin
It's hard to believe that we're seeing Martin become a weekly fixture in our flops list. Still, the veteran driver has done nothing to endear fantasy racing players everywhere in 2010. Martin has only posted one Top-10 finish in his last 13 starts. After winning five races in 2009, that's an amazing statistic. Despite Martin's four career victories and staggering 22 career Top 5 at the Monster Mile, we have to stamp our seal of disapproval on the struggling No. 5 team right now.

Sam Hornish Jr.
The season can't seem to end soon enough for the struggling Penske Racing driver. Hornish may not be back with the team in 2011 due to sponsorship problems, but he needs to focus on getting better for next season if he hopes to race anywhere in the Sprint Cup Series. We're not convinced that this turn around will happen on Sunday at the Monster Mile. Hornish has five career starts at the one-mile oval with only two Top 20's to his credit.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Despite his surprise Top 5 at Loudon this past week, we're still very pessimistic about Earnhardt. With the recent admission that the No. 88 team was basically experimenting with a new and untested shock/spring package at Richmond, it's time to stick a fork in any fantasy racing hopes for this team in what remains of 2010. Earnhardt has slogged through yet another season and failed to make the Chase for the third time in the last four seasons. Despite having one career win at Dover, his last five trips to the track have been anything but impressive, with only one Top 15 in those starts.

Juan Pablo Montoya
In seven career starts at Dover Montoya has only been able to scratch for two Top-10 finishes. While in theory the No. 42 Chevrolet should run well on the high banks of Dover, the results have not followed during his brief career at the track. Four of Montoya's visits to the Monster Mile have resulted in finishes outside the Top 30 and two DNF's. There's too much inconsistency at this oval to risk the start. Stash Montoya this week and bring him back the following week at Kansas Speedway.
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