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FedEx 400 Preview: The Monster Dash

Dover International Speedway hosts this weekend's FedEx 400 for Autism Speaks. 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 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. This is race No. 12 of the season, so urgency to better one's position in the driver standings will pick up the pace at DIS. 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. Dover has favored one stable in particular in recent seasons, and as you will see below the drivers of Roush Fenway Racing have a monopoly on the top of the chart. The trio of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards has led close to 29 percent of all the laps raced at DIS in the last five years. That's a pretty remarkable feat for drivers in the same camp. The loop stats in the table below cover the last seven years or 14 races at Dover International Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson6.82877341,5914,770118.6
Matt Kenseth9.54243656854,746110.0
Carl Edwards6.64124795324,230106.5
Greg Biffle9.04164144634,562105.4
Kyle Busch13.33652364484,208102.6
Kurt Busch16.13332204053,93397.8
Mark Martin9.1321293754,06396.1
Ryan Newman13.62851002404,02091.1
Jeff Burton8.7358172633,69990.0
Jeff Gordon14.7362981143,95289.2
Clint Bowyer14.3281133333,17188.1
Martin Truex Jr.17.22721912252,92188.1
Kevin Harvick16.726175112,98579.7
Jamie McMurray19.6220891312,22178.7
Denny Hamlin20.723439612,39078.7
A.J. Allmendinger23.31971241521,66877.8
David Reutimann18.813856261,39877.5
Kasey Kahne21.3221197522,50677.1
Marcos Ambrose19.112268099775.8
Dale Earnhardt Jr.20.619414021,94575.6

Dover International Speedway had been one of Roush Fenway Racing's most successful venues in recent years with Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth combining for five victories in the last seven seasons. While those Ford teams have remained strong at the one-mile oval, Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports have proven to be their biggest competition in the last few years. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion has tamed the Monster Mile three times in the last six races at the Delaware oval. Johnson captured both victories at Dover in 2009, and he won here in September 2010. Only Joe Gibbs Racing has put forth enough performance to mention in the same breath as the Roush drivers and Johnson. Kyle Busch won at the concrete oval in this event in 2008 and 2010, so the spring race at Dover International Speedway appeals to the Joe Gibbs Racing star. Considering how he's been heating up here of late, it may be time for Busch to have impact yet again at the Monster Mile. A good sleeper to keep an eye on this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. The Michael Waltrip Racing star is a one-time winner at DIS and he sports good loop stats at the Delaware speedway with an 88.1 driver rating. Considering that Truex raced with the leaders for 500 laps and finished third at the steeply banked and similarly configured Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season, he and the No. 56 Toyota team could make a push for their first win of the season this weekend. We'll outline the drivers who will likely dominate and a few others about to make surprise runs at Dover International Speedway on Sunday in the FedEx 400.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Jimmie Johnson -
The winner of three of the last six Dover races and a total of six career victories at the Monster Mile has to be the top contender entering this event. Johnson loves the high-speed mixing bowl in Delaware, as his near-2,000 career laps led attests. If by some chance Johnson isn't in the running for the win in the closing laps, his 45 percent Top 5 rate at the one-mile oval is a very reassuring statistic that he won't fall far into the field. Considering how well the five-time champion is performing right now, the odds are pretty good that we'll see Johnson battling for the win in the final green-flag run.

Greg Biffle -
The No. 16 Ford team has been razor sharp of late, and right now we're in the middle of a great part of the schedule for Biffle. Dover ranks as one of Biffle's top two tracks on the circuit. He is a two-time winner at the Monster Mile and he's a Top-5 finisher in nearly a third of his career starts at this highly banked oval. Biffle has a real knack for racing this one-mile oval, so the timing is a great for a visit to DIS. We could very easily see a dominant performance from the Roush Fenway Racing veteran on Sunday and a third career victory at the Monster Mile.

Matt Kenseth -
The Roush Fenway Racing excellence that we expect to see every time we visit the Monster Mille should be apparent in the No. 17 team this weekend. Kenseth is racing well in 2012, and his career numbers at this oval are nothing short of impressive. He has two career victories at the high-banked track, including this race one year ago, and a 46 percent Top 5 rate at Dover. Kenseth has an amazing seven Top-5 finishes in his last eight trips to the concrete oval, and over 700 career laps led at this facility. We can't think of a better "stealth" contender for the FedEx 400 than Kenseth.

Kyle Busch -
Once again Busch will lead the Joe Gibbs Racing assault on the high banks of Dover International Speedway. Busch has led significant laps and raced with the leaders in recent events, so the No. 18 team is hot enough to pull a win out at Dover this Sunday. Busch is a two-time winner at DIS, and he sports a 50 percent Top 5 rate at the track. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota hasn't finished outside the Top 6 since his win in this event in 2010, so Busch has been poking around victory lane in each of his last four starts at the Monster Mile. The timing could be right for a victory "bow" for Busch at Dover.

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

Martin Truex Jr. -
Truex has been extremely impressive in 2012, and his sixth-place ranking in the championship standings is proof positive of this fact. This weekend he visits one of his favorite tracks in Dover International Speedway. Truex has two poles, one career win and four Top 10s in 12 starts at the Monster Mile. One year ago the Michael Waltrip Racing star qualified and finished eighth in the FedEx 400. The No. 56 team claimed a brilliant third-place finish at the high banks of Bristol earlier this season, and often times that is a good barometer of what to expect at Dover.

Carl Edwards -
It's no secret that Edwards loves concrete ovals. The results show it in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series statistics. Edwards enters this event struggling a bit, but still registering Top 10s each week. All it is going to take to get his first win of the season is a little luck and a good race car. The one-time Dover winner has a series-best 7.3 average finish at this high-banked oval, and he rides a four-race Top 10 streak at DIS into this Sunday's event. Edwards finished seventh and third at the Monster Mile last season, so he's almost always racing with the leaders here.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne is one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series right now. Tracking the trends, we see that the Hendrick Motorsports veteran has one victory, five Top-10 finishes and 140 laps led in his last five races entering this weekend. Kahne doesn't have the best career numbers at Dover International Speedway, but we feel his recent hot streak is more than enough to warrant fantasy racing consideration this weekend. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet qualified ninth and finished fourth at the Monster Mile during last season's Chase. Kahne and his crew chief Kenny Francis surely haven't lost the notes from that performance.

Brad Keselowski -
Our winner at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season draws a lot of attention this week at DIS. Although the overall size is different, the similarities between these two ovals are striking. Dover has been a puzzle for Keselowski in four career starts. He has yet to crack that Top 10 at the Delaware mixing bowl. However, we expect Keselowski to buck the trend in Sunday's FedEx 400. The Penske Racing star has been one of the more consistent drivers this season on the series' short tracks, and Dover sort of qualifies in that regard. We believe the No. 2 Dodge will be quite fast at the high banks of the Monster Mile.

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

Clint Bowyer -
Of the drivers that impressed us earlier this season at Bristol, Bowyer and his MWR team stand out. He raced with the leaders the entire 500-laps at BMS and finished fourth in that high-banked oval. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota doesn't have the best career numbers at the Monster Mile, but his performances at the one-mile oval have been on the rise in recent years. Bowyer picked up a pair of Top 10s in 2011 at the Monster Mile during his farewell tour with Richard Childress Racing. He's should have no problem rediscovering that magic in a Toyota this weekend.

Ryan Newman -
Newman is trying to establish some consistency and get his season going, so this week's trip to Dover comes at a good time for the Stewart Haas Racing veteran. He now has three Top 10s on the season and enters this weekend ranked a sub-par 14th in the driver standings. Newman owns three career victories at Dover International Speedway, and he's led close to 850 laps at the highly-banked oval. The driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet should be very happy to see the one-mile Dover race track, and we're willing to bet his results will follow that enthusiasm.

Jeff Gordon -
Gordon's 55 percent Top-10 rate at the Monster Mile grabs our attention right away. He has four poles and four career victories at Dover, so Gordon has had his fair share of success at the Monster Mile over the years. The No. 24 team has been wildly inconsistent this season, thus the reason for this week's sleeper ranking instead of solid play ranking. The Hendrick Motorsports star's Top 10 at Charlotte this past weekend has us feeling rather optimistic for this race team. If the bad luck can stay away for a second-straight week, we should see another Top-10 finish for Gordon.

Jeff Burton -
Certain ovals just bring this Richard Childress Racing driver to life. Dover classifies as one of those ovals for Burton. The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet likes the high banked tracks, as his sixth-place finish at Bristol earlier this season attests. Burton has one career win and 15 Top 10s at the Monster Mile. Last season he picked up a pair of 11th-place finishes at the one-mile oval. Burton hasn't finished outside the Top 16 at this facility since way back in 2004. In fantasy racing terms, that's what we call security and peace of mind.

Marcos Ambrose -
Richard Petty Motorsports has been giving Ambrose fast cars of late. His outside pole and laps led at Charlotte this past weekend are a good example of this. Unfortunately, a broken wheel hub took out the Aussie at the Charlotte oval when a Top-5 finish appeared likely. Ambrose will attempt to put that heartbreak behind him at the Monster Mile on Sunday afternoon. The RPM driver has performed well at the highly banked ovals since making the jump to NASCAR. The driver of the No. 9 Ford picked up third- and ninth-place finishes at this facility last season, so you can easily see our reason for optimism.

Aric Almirola -
Ambrose isn't the only RPM driver we'll highlight this weekend. We really feel that Richard Petty Motorsports is heading in the right direction right now. Almirola joined his teammate on the front row at Charlotte last weekend by qualifying on the pole position for the first time in his Cup career in the Coca-Cola 600. Almirola parlayed that into a decent 16th-place finish, his third-straight Top 20 entering this weekend. The driver of the No. 43 Ford will be making his first Sprint Cup start at the Monster Mile this weekend, but he does have three finishes of 11th-, ninth- and 15th-place in his Nationwide Series starts at this facility.

Jamie McMurray -
We believe Jamie McMurray has Top 15 written all over him this Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway. The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but he's peaked at certain historically kind facilities. Dover has us feeling optimistic for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet because high banked ovals and short tracks have been kind to McMurray this season and it recent seasons. His seventh-place finish at Bristol earlier this year is a season-best effort. McMurray's 13th-, 20th- and 15th-place finishes at DIS in his last three trips are fairly representative of what to expect this Sunday afternoon.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Tony Stewart -
Smoke has been a real enigma in 2012. Despite two wins and a ninth-place ranking in the driver standings entering this weekend, no other prominent driver in the series can disappear like Stewart has this season. Some weeks he's racing with the leaders and the very next he's Mr. Invisible. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion is a two-time Dover winner, but his last three trips to the Delaware oval have all been finishes outside the Top 20. Coming off a poor finish at Charlotte, we're less than inspired by these numbers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
We're calling an Earnhardt Jr. bust this weekend at Dover. That's pretty ambitious considering that the NASCAR icon leads the series right now with nine Top-10 finishes in the season's first 12 races. Dover hasn't been the best facility for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet over the years. He has a lowly 29 percent Top 10 rate at the Monster Mile and he hasn't visited the Top 10 there since way back in 2007. If Earnhardt's sup-par 15th-place finish at Bristol earlier this season is any indication, it could be a good week to bench the No. 88 team.

Mark Martin -
After a torrid start to the season, we've seen the No. 55 MWR Toyota fall cold. Martin has two engine failures and sub-par 20th-place finish at Darlington in his recent resume. That has caused us to cast a critical eye toward the part-time veteran driver. Despite four career victories and 31 Top-10 finishes at the Monster Mile, we have to be very pessimistic about Martin's chances this weekend. Three of his last four trips to the one-mile Delaware oval have been finishes outside the Top 10. Martin could be in for one of his worst performances in recent memory at DIS.

Kurt Busch -
Our last Dover winner ends up in the flops list this week. How does that happen? Well, the short story is losing you top-flight ride at Penske Racing and going to work for small NASCAR team owner James Finch. Despite winning last October's AAA 400 at DIS, we have to give the major downgrade to the former Sprint Cup champion this week. Aside from his struggles this season in the No. 51 Chevrolet, that win at the Monster Mile at the end of 2011 was a bit of an aberration anyway. Busch only sports a 35 percent Top 10 rate at the one-mile oval. His 22.6 average finish over the last five races are a very good indicator of what to expect for Busch this Sunday afternoon.