Friday, September 24, 2010

Chase Coverage: Dover Pre-Race

This week the series moves into Dover, Del., to the track nicknamed "The Monster Mile." The concrete track is brutal and this week will not be any different.

Today our team brings you the pre-race report for the 12 Chase drivers. We hope you enjoy and come back Tuesday for the post-race wrap-up report.

1. DENNY HAMLIN – 5230 POINTS (LEADER) – HOLLY MACHUGA

Denny Hamlin remains in the first spot in points as we work our way into the second week of the Chase. The FedEx team obviously knows what they're doing due to the fact of their success in the Sprint Cup series this year. They have won six races together, with one pole, 11 top 5s and 12 top 10s. Hamlin has led a total of 918 laps this season, not a career high (he led 1,380 last year), but still impressive.

Denny's knee surgery obviously hasn't gotten in the way because of his success this year. In fact, he has won more races after his surgery than he has in two years total. You could say that the knee is lucky!

Hamlin has nine starts at Dover, including three top 10s and two top 5. His average start is 15.7 and his average finish is 22.8. The finish is so low because he has two DNFs that were figured into the average. He hasn't won yet, but I'm sure his fans, as well as I am, are looking to see him add Dover International to his win list.




2. KEVIN HARVICK – 5185 POINTS – AMBER ARNOLD


After a week of drama surrounding his teammate, Kevin Harvick goes into Dover second in the Chase, just 45 points out of first place. Loudon was a trying race for the 29 team, where costly pit stops made their driver have to work that much harder to earn the fifth-place result at the end of the night. Green flag pit stops are sure to be key at Dover, a 1-mile oval track, which could prove to be a true test for the 29 team if they aren’t prepared for successful green flag stops this week.

Harvick has a driver rating of 95.8 after last week’s race at Loudon. The Monster Mile has been a tough track for Harvick, who has no wins, two top 5s, seven top 10s and 1 DNF in 19 starts. His average start is 21.2 and average finish is 17.4. The 29 team finished seventh at Dover back in May. For a team who has overcome a lot of adversity this year, I wouldn’t count them out as being a contender for getting first victory on the Monster Mile this weekend.

Harvick will also be piloting the KHI-owned 33 car this weekend in the Nationwide series.

3. KYLE BUSCH – 5168 POINTS – LINDI BESS

Can Rowdy, Dave and the crew pull off another double at Dover International Speedway? It was at the Monster Mile in early May that the #18 Toyota Camry swept both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. The May win gave Busch win #2 out of 11 races at Dover on the Cup side. Busch's JGR teammates, Hamlin and Logano, finished fourth and 10th, landing the three JGR cup drivers in the Top 10, which last happened in 2008.

Kyle took advantage of the four-time Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson, after a mistake made during a green flag pit stop on lap 363. The #48 team exited the pits too fast, and was forced to return to the pits for a pass-through penalty. The Lowes team never recovered.

Going into this weekend, Busch's career totals across NASCAR's top three divisions are 19 in NSCS, 40 in NNS and 21 CWTS. Of those, Dover has given him two wins, six top 5s, six top 10s, 401 laps led out of 3825, and no poles. His average finish is 15.5 and average starting position is 14.7.

During Kyle's last visit to Dover, he led a total of 494 laps over the course of the three NASCAR races he competed in during the weekend. With the trucks not racing at Dover this weekend, Kyle is limited to just Sprint Cup and NNS.

4. JEFF GORDON – 5155 POINTS – GENEVIEVE CADORETTE

After spending a week at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where the focus was on improving children’s health care in the United States and abroad, Jeff Gordon will return to Dover, Del., for race two of the Chase.

This past week, someone’s bad luck turned into Gordon’s good news. He moved from the fifth to fourth seed when Clint Bowyer lost 150 points due to driving an illegal car at Loudon. Unfortunately, Gordon has not been in the center of press or coverage this past week.

Gordon’s history in Dover consists of five DNFs and a few crashes. He holds a record of four wins, 14 top 5s, 21 top-10 finishes and four poles, with a total of 2,231 laps led in 35 starts. His average finish is 12.1. In the spring race, Gordon finished 11th after starting 15th on the grid.

He hasn’t won a race at Dover since 2001, but Gordon believes he can do well this weekend, even though he knows it’s one of the tracks where they need to make some gains if they want to stay competitive in the Chase. With last week’s strategy of safe and steady, Gordon’s consistency and chances of improving are solid.

Side note: If you’re a Gordon fan attending the race, be sure to help support JG and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a fund dedicated to members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty, and look out for a special paint scheme again this weekend. 

5. KURT BUSCH – 5144 POINTS – KATY LINDAMOOD

"I've said all along that these next two races - this weekend's race at Dover and the following week at Kansas - look to be our huge challenges during the Chase," said Kurt Busch this week when asked about his chances of winning at Dover. Though Busch admits he didn't perform well earlier in the season, he did fare well in last season's Chase race at the Delaware track.

Over the course of his career Busch has had more downs than ups at the "Monster Mile" having an average finish of 19.6 in 20 races. His best finish came in 2006 when he finished forth. Busch has six top 10's and had led a total of 325 laps. While this has certainly not been his best track on the circuit the team has shown improvements this season on tracks where he has not fared well in the past, including Charlotte.

Busch still isn't the favorite to win the 2010 he's still got a fighting chance. While everyone's attention is on Bowyer perhaps Busch can sneak in for the win and move up in the standing.

6. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 5168 POINTS – REBECCA KIVAK

After a rough start to the Chase at New Hampshire, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowes team will try to play catchup this weekend at one of his best tracks, Dover International Speedway. Johnson has five wins at the Monster Mile, the most of any active driver. The four-time Sprint Cup champion is the defending winner of this race and swept the track last year.

Earlier this week, Johnson said his history at Dover makes him feel confident going there, but he knows how daunting the 1-mile oval can be. “Dover’s a track that I just love driving. I’m looking forward to it and I’m going there with that mindset, and try to put the fear out of my mind and go for a win,” said Johnson, who is  sixth in the championship standings.

According to loop data compiled by NASCAR, Johnson is the only driver to attain a perfect driver rating, 150.0, at Dover. In 17 starts at the track, Johnson has collected seven top 5s, 11 top 10s and three poles. He has led a total of 1,431 laps, with an average start of 11.4 and an average finish of 10.2.

Despite these impressive numbers, the spring race at Dover ended in disappointment for Johnson. The driver of the No. 48 led a race-high 225 laps in the Autism Speaks 400, but a late-race speeding penalty put Johnson a lap down, relegating him to a 16th-place finish. It was an uncharacteristic mistake for Johnson, but one he must avoid making in order to stay in contention for the win at Sunday’s AAA 400. Coming off a 25th-place finish at New Hampshire, Johnson also needs to ward off the bad luck that plagued him when he was involved in two on-track incidents and later pitted under green for a tire vibration.

7. CARL EDWARDS – 5135 POINTS – AMANDA EBERSOLE

Concrete Carl….that is a nickname Carl Edwards has earned after excelling on concrete race tracks. For the second race of the Chase, drivers head to Dover International Speedway and among the 12 contenders for the Sprint Cup, Carl scores the highest average finish of 8th. Heading into Dover, Carl is now seventh in points and sits 95 back from our current points leader, Denny Hamlin.

With a total of 12 career starts at Dover, Carl has one win that came in the fall race of 2007. Edwards also has accumulated five top 5s and eight top-10 finishes at the track known as the Monster Mile. Edwards has also led a total of 297 laps at Dover and has only led more laps at two other tracks on the circuit, those being Texas and Atlanta.

Carl’s thoughts on heading to Dover this weekend: “We have nine races left in the Chase and we are going to Dover to win this race. We are going all out 100 percent. We’re taking a new car this weekend that should be fast. I'm excited to go there. It's a great track for me and my Aflac team. We've had some really good runs there including a win. For me this is one of the races in the Chase where I can make a difference as a driver." Crew chief Bob Osborne also shares Carl’s views on Dover by saying, “We’ve got a new car for Dover that I feel will be extremely competitive. Carl has a great record there and has led a lot of laps over his 12 races there." Look for Carl Edwards to be a contender when the checkered flag falls on Sunday. 

8. GREG BIFFLE – 5122 POINTS – STACIE BALL

Two wins, six top 5s and 10 top 10s, along with one pole, at the Monster Mile of Dover International Speedway should spearhead Greg Biffle and the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion team in the right direction for this second race of the 10-race Chase. In the spring race at the Monster Mile, Biffle ran through the field after starting in the 24th spot on the grid and finished sixth. What will the race in Dover do to challenge the team of the No. 16 with Biffle behind the wheel?

“I am definitely ready to get to Dover this weekend. I think it should be the start of a few good finishes for us. We’ve been running well at the faster tracks and I think that will carry over to Dover, Kansas, California and Charlotte. We need to get solid top-5 finishes at each of those tracks because we consider Martinsville and Phoenix to be weaker tracks for us and you just never know what might happen at Talladega. We didn’t have the start to the Chase last weekend at New Hampshire that we were looking for but this team is resilient and we’re already looking ahead,” Biffle said of the upcoming race at the Monster Mile. He sounds very confident in the team behind him.

His two wins in June 2005 and September 2008, along with his various stats, show that the Monster Mile is definitely not as tricky on Biffle as it is on others. Greg Erwin, his crew chief, confirmed this by saying, “We are looking forward to getting back to the faster, banked racetracks that we have coming up starting with this weekend at Dover. We’ve had really strong runs at those type of tracks since the midpoint of this season. Greg has two wins at Dover so we know he knows how to win there. The important things at Dover are obviously getting the car to turn through the corners and also tire management. It seems that as that track ages, it becomes harder and harder on tires, so we just have to be mindful of that.”

Will the Monster Mile be nice or mean to Biffle this weekend?  I think it will be a wait-and-see once at the track and practicing. I do know the improvements will be coming; that is one thing I see for sure for this weekend.

9. JEFF BURTON – 5118 POINTS – GENNA SHORT

Jeff Burton broke a 175-race winless streak at Dover in 2006, his first since Phoenix in November 2001.

Going into this weekend’s race at the 1-mile concrete oval, he sits 10th in the standings - not ideal after a 15th-place finish at New Hampshire. The veteran may not have won a race since Charlotte’s fall race in 2008, but he did finish second to Kyle Busch in the May race at Dover.

In the last 10 races here, he has one win, three top 5s, six top 10s and an 11th-place finish, a 12th-place finish and two 16th-place finishes. His overall average finish is 15.9 at the Monster Mile. While the track may not be his best, his chances here are as good as any for a top 5 or even a win.

10. TONY STEWART – 5106 POINTS – UNIQUE HIRAM

The racetrack most infamously nicknamed “The Monster Mile” - Dover International Speedway - will play host to the second Sprint Cup Chase race. This 1-mile track has proven to host some action packed races and I am sure that the outcome of the upcoming event will prove to be entertaining as well as unpredictable. Initially seeded in the sixth position, Tony “Smoke” Stewart has dropped down five spots into the 11th position and will be headed to a track where his accomplishments include the following: two wins, 10 top 5s, 15 top 10s and 1,072 laps led. In addition, his average start is 19.2 and average finish is 11.4.

In a recent interview posted on www.tonystewart.com, Smoke was asked about the approach that should be taken to successfully drive around this upcoming racetrack and he had this to say: “I don’t think you drive it any differently. But because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would. There are seams in Dover’s surface and places where they’ve cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change, and every year when you go there, the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that’s constantly changing. But it’s one of those places where you really can’t change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It’s just a matter of finding the package that’s right for that racetrack. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track – either the car is going to be tight or it’s going to be loose.”
 
I think the bottom line is that this team will definitely be fighting for a win or top finish because they would like to be closer to the top spot and given the opportunity to be the #1 seed upon completion of the racing season at Homestead. This team might have been put down last week, but they are definitely not out of being in contention to take it all at the end.

*Note: Due to the penalties give to Clint Bowyer & his race team, Tony Stewart is now seeded in the 10th position of the Sprint Cup Chase. 
 
11. MATT KENSETH – 5094 POINTS – WHITNEY RICHARDS

To say last week’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a disappointment for Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 team would be an understatement. The team struggled all weekend, and Kenseth spun late in the race and damaged his car when it hit the wall. He fought back to finish 23rd, but the finish caused him to drop to 12th in the standings. However, on Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that Clint Bowyer, who was second in the standings after winning at New Hampshire, was docked 150 driver points after his car failed post-race inspection. Kenseth moved up to 11th in the standings due to Bowyer dropping to 12thafter the penalty.

Kenseth is looking to rebound this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The “Monster Mile” is Kenseth’s favorite track. He made his first Cup career start at Dover when he filled in for Bill Elliott on Sept. 20, 1998. Kenseth has one win (June 2006), 10 top-5 finishes and 15 top-10 finishes at the track. Kenseth earned two of his four Cup career poles at Dover in the spring of 2002 and fall of 2003. He has completed 8,925 of 9,204 laps and has led 708 laps at the 1-mile speedway. This weekend Kenseth and his team are bringing chassis RK-672, which was last run at Michigan. Kenseth and the Crown Royal crew are hoping to have a solid run on Sunday to keep their championships hopes alive.

Kenseth might have moved up one position to 11th due to Bowyer’s penalty, but he remains 136 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

12. CLINT BOWYER – 5045 POINTS – AMY MCHARGUE

After Clint Bowyer's impressive run last week at Louden that moved him from 12th to second in the Chase standings, Bowyer was penalized 150 points for failing post-race inspection at the Louden race. This penalty dropped Bowyer back to 12th spot and leaves him searching for ways to make up the 185 points he is now behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin. NASCAR officials stated that the rear end of Clint's car was “manipulated” in some illegal way.

Clint was quoted as saying, “I know we won the race (last) weekend and it was a lot of fun. We led the most laps and won the race and the guys work hard in the shop to bring fair, fast race cars.” What Bowyer has to do now is re-group and go back to the track this week and bring home a very good finish. Although Clint has not won at this track, he has finished in the top 10 in three of the nine Cup races at Dover. Bowyer finished in seventh place at this track in the spring. With an average finish at Dover of 14.7, Clint will have to step up his game to finish near the front of the field.

Clint Bowyer has been a driver who has performed well this season under pressure; with as much pressure as he has felt all season, Clint should perform strongly on Sunday afternoon. It will be extremely tough, but not impossible for Bowyer to come back to be a contender for the championship. Solid performances will give the Cheerios team the shot that they are working toward. The possibility of another win this week at Dover International Speedway gives the team a chance to regain some of the lost points.

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