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FedEx 400 Preview: Mastering the Monster Mile

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.

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, 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. This will also be the first race at DIS with the new Gen-6 car. The learning curve will be steep this weekend, and those teams that can adapt to the practice feedback the fastest will be the ones to succeed on Sunday. This is race number 13 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, despite the new stock car. This is a pattern we've observed all season long. The new Gen-6 car has still managed to elevate "traditional performers" at most tracks. 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 duo of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have led their share of laps and taken their share of victories at the one-mile oval. The loop stats in the table below cover the last eight years or 16 races at Dover International Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson6.33178781,9235,570120.6
Matt Kenseth10.74433796875,270107.8
Carl Edwards7.74534875324,782104.5
Kyle Busch13.93903187504,774104.0
Greg Biffle9.64634314635,090103.3
Mark Martin9.13693271184,81697.0
Kurt Busch17.03482374053,94293.4
Jeff Gordon13.84262231754,67692.5
Clint Bowyer13.2322166343,97091.1
Ryan Newman14.23251052404,36689.8
Martin Truex Jr.15.63262132253,60789.3
Jeff Burton10.7383184633,93987.0
Aric Almirola 12.5368034484.0
Brad Keselowski14.311347161,24483.1
Kevin Harvick15.6308101113,60981.9
Denny Hamlin19.6275861022,92081.5
Kasey Kahne20.1279242523,22779.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.19.023915532,67678.1
A.J. Allmendinger22.62211271521,81377.6
Jamie McMurray19.8240941312,34277.4

Dover International Speedway used to be one of Roush Fenway Racing's most successful venues in the Sprint Cup Series. However, Chevrolet has been catching up fast thanks to the recent dominance of Hendrick Motorsports star Jimmie Johnson. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion has tamed the Monster Mile four times in the last eight races at the Delaware oval. Johnson captured both victories at Dover in 2009, he won here in September of 2010, and he won this event one year ago. Only Penske Racing has put forth enough performance to mention in the same breath as Johnson. Kurt Busch won at the concrete oval in this event in the fall of 2011, and Brad Keselowski won the fall event at DIS at the end of last season. This season, Penske Racing is 0-for-12 thus far, so the chances of a Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano victory this weekend would seem unlikely. The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing haven't won at the Monster Mile since Kyle Busch's win in this event in 2010. He and teammate Matt Kenseth represent Toyota's best chances for a Dover trophy this Sunday afternoon. The new JGR driver Kenseth has two career wins at the one-mile oval in his Ford days with Roush. Considering the current momentum of the No. 20 team, Kenseth has a great shot at getting JGR back to their winning ways at Dover. A good sleeper to keep an eye on this weekend is Kurt Busch. The Furniture Row Racing star is a one-time winner at DIS and he sports good loop stats at the Delaware speedway with a 93.4 driver rating. Considering what Busch and the No. 78 team have accomplished the last month, he and the FRR 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 four of the last eight Dover races and a total of seven 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 2,300+ career laps led attests. 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. 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 closing laps of the FedEx 400.

Matt Kenseth -
The new Joe Gibbs Racing driver can hardly wait to take to the high banks of DIS. Kenseth is racing extremely well in 2013, and his career numbers at this oval are nothing short of impressive. He has two career victories at Dover International Speedway, including this event in 2011, and a 46 percent Top 5 rate at Dover. Kenseth has an amazing eight Top-5 finishes in his last 10 trips to the concrete oval, and over 700 career laps led at this facility. The way the No. 20 Toyota team is performing right now, we expect Kenseth to be Johnson's biggest competitor this weekend at the Monster Mile.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne is one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series through the first 12 events. Tracking the stats, we see that the Hendrick Motorsports veteran has one victory, three runner-up finishes and 384 laps led 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 won on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season, and that could be a very good omen for his performance in the FedEx 400. Kahne and his crew chief Kenny Francis have been a great combination thus far in 2013.

Kyle Busch -
Once again Busch will look to get back into victory lane at the Monster Mile. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota is a two-time winner at DIS, and he sports a 44 percent Top 5 rate at the track. Even though Busch hasn't won at the one-mile oval since 2010, he's been a contender virtually every time the Sprint Cup Series visits here. Busch led 302 laps, but finished a disappointing seventh in last fall's AAA 400. That's not the first time we've seen the JGR star dominate at DIS, but fall short of victory lane. It should be a big confidence booster for a driver and team looking to rebound from their Charlotte DNF.

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

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is on fire since returning to action from his back injury. He has one pole position and two Top-5 finishes in the three races since returning from his hiatus. The motivation to make up lost ground in the standings and get into the Chase for the Cup later this season is powerful motivators, and they should continue at Dover this Sunday afternoon. Hamlin doesn't own the best stats at the oval, but he's been coming around here in recent seasons. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota won the pole, led 39 laps and finished eighth the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited the Delaware oval. He led a whopping 117 laps at the high-banked Bristol oval earlier this season, and that's a good sign heading into the FedEx 400.

Kurt Busch -
The top news story of this season could end up being embattled-veteran Busch. His exile from Penske Racing a couple seasons back sent the fiery driver reeling. It seems he's at last found a home at Furniture Row Racing. Busch has been vey impressive the month of May. He's led 115 laps combined in the last four races, and he has one pole position and a pair of Top 10s. Busch rides this wave of momentum into Dover weekend and hopes to continue competing with the best in the series. The driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet is a one-time Dover winner and he has Top-5 finishes in four of his last eight appearances at the one-mile oval.

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. The one-time Dover winner has a series-best 8.3 average finish at this high-banked oval, and he rides an impressive 71 percent Top-10 rate at DIS into this Sunday's event. Edwards finished fifth at the Monster Mile last fall, the last time the Sprint Cup Series competed at Dover International Speedway. The first race in the new Gen-6 car at the Monster Mile shouldn't be a concern for the Roush Fenway Racing star.

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 fifth at that high-banked oval. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota has been building quite a Dover resume in recent seasons. Bowyer is riding a four-race Top-10 streak at the Monster Mile into this Sunday's FedEx 400. This streak has boosted his career Top 10 rate at the Delaware oval to right at 50 percent. Bowyer enters this race a lofty fourth in the overall driver standings and with a lot on the line this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

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

Kevin Harvick -
Coming off the big Charlotte victory, his second in the last four races, Harvick comes charging into Dover weekend. The Richard Childress Racing star has never won at the Monster Mile, but he's been a pretty consistent performer here over the years. Harvick sports a respectable 15.9 average finish at the one-mile oval and three of his last four trips to DIS have netted Top-10 finishes. With only one career DNF in 24 starts at the Monster Mile, fantasy racing players can lean on Harvick with a measure of steadfast assurance in this Sunday afternoon's FedEx 400.

Ryan Newman -
Newman is trying to establish some consistency and get his season going in the right direction, so this week's trip to Dover comes at a good time for the Stewart Haas Racing veteran. After his Top-10 finish at Charlotte he now has six Top 10s on the season and enters this weekend ranked a sub-par 16th 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.

Joey Logano -
The new Penske Racing driver is riding quite a wave of momentum and quite a streak of recent consistency at Dover into the FedEx 400 this Sunday afternoon. Logano is fresh off a Top-5 finish at Charlotte and that was his fourth Top 5 of the season. He also sports four Top-10 finishes in his last six trips to the Delaware oval. These are all great indicators for his potential this weekend at DIS. Logano has been dogged by some consistency issues in 2013, but his historically strong ovals have been reliable fantasy racing starts for the driver of the No. 22 Ford.

Marcos Ambrose -
Richard Petty Motorsports has been giving Ambrose fast cars of late. His 10th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend is a good example of this. The Australian has found getting traction this season somewhat difficult to do, but after his second Top 10 of the 2013 campaign at Charlotte, things may begin moving for the No. 9 Ford team. Ambrose has performed well at the highly banked ovals since making the jump to NASCAR a few years ago. The driver of the No. 9 Ford picked up third-, ninth-, 10th- and 18th-place finishes at this facility in the last two years.

Aric Almirola -
Ambrose isn't the only RPM driver we'll highlight this weekend. We really feel that Richard Petty Motorsports is really in the process of returning to prominence. Almirola has been having a career season in 2013 and he stands a career-best 12th in the championship standings entering this weekend. The driver of the historic No. 43 Ford has only two career Cup starts at Dover International Speedway, but they have been respectable sixth- and 19th-place finishes. Almirola registered a Top-20 finish at the highly-banked oval in Bristol earlier this season, so that seems like a likely target for this weekend's 400-mile race at DIS.

Jamie McMurray -
We believe Jamie McMurray has Top-15 finish 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 strong 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 over his Sprint Cup career. His 10th-place finish at Bristol earlier this year is a good indicator heading into this Sunday's FedEx 400. McMurray has Top-20 finishes in four of his last five trips to DIS. We expect good results for the EGR driver this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
The Rookie of the Year front-runner has only one career start at Dover, but it was a great performance. Stenhouse started 17th and finished 12th in last September's AAA 400. The young Roush Fenway Racing driver hopes to follow up that effort in this weekend's FedEx 400. Stenhouse was a consistent performer at this oval during his Nationwide Series career. Three of his last four trips to the Monster Mile in that racing series yielded Top-10 finishes. We would expect the No. 17 Ford team to challenge the Top 15 in Sunday's 400-mile brawl at Dover.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Greg Biffle -
The No. 16 Ford team hasn't been quite on their game of late. Dover ranks as one of Biffle's top five tracks on the circuit, but his recent performances there have been very forgettable. Biffle has only one Top-10 finish in his last five trips to the Monster Mile. The Roush Fenway Racing veteran limps into this weekend's event at the high-banked oval. He has no Top-10 finishes in the last five races, and three of those efforts have been results outside the Top 30. It's best to stay clear of Biffle until he gets his problems and consistency sorted out.

Tony Stewart -
Smoke has been a real disappointment in 2013. He just picked up his second Top 10 of the season this past week at Charlotte and enters this event a lowly 20th in the overall driver standings. No other prominent driver in the series has disappeared like Stewart has this season. Despite being a two-time winner at Dover International Speedway, we have to keep the No. 14 team on the hands-off list this week. His last five trips to the Monster Mile have netted no Top-10 finishes and four of those efforts have been finishes outside the Top 20. Sorry, but we're not buying into the Charlotte follow-up this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
We're calling an Earnhardt Jr. bust this weekend at Dover. That's pretty ambitious considering that the NASCAR icon is sixth in the championship standings right now with seven 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 31 percent Top 10 rate at the Monster Mile and he has only one Top-10 finish at the one-mile oval since 2008. If Earnhardt's performance the last three races is any indication, the struggles will be multiplied this week at Dover International Speedway.

Brad Keselowski -
Our last Dover winner slides to the flops list this week. Last September, Keselowski out-smarted the field and beat the dynamic Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in the closing laps of last fall's AAA 400. It was the Penske Racing star's best performance at the Monster Mile and a far cry from his usual performance at the one-mile oval. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion has fallen on hard times of late and possibly has succumbed to the pressure of being the champion. The last four races he's slogged to finishes of 33rd-, 15th-, 32nd- and 36th-place. Keselowski has fallen from third- to 10th-place in the driver standings over that span. He faces an uphill battle in the FedEx 400 this Sunday afternoon.