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Fuel mileage dominated the finishes of the first two Chase races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. Will we see more of the same this weekend - or a good ole' race to the finish?
The ladies of Skirts and Scuffs break down the 12 Chase drivers' chances for Sunday's AAA 400. Here are the drivers in order of their standings after New Hampshire, followed by their stats for Dover.
1. Tony Stewart – Smokin’ the field – By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 10, Top 10s: 5, Wins: 2
Where there’s Smoke, there’s fire. After winning the first two races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Tony Stewart is the hottest driver in the Chase right now. With a seven-point lead over Kevin Harvick, the Sprint Cup points leader will be looking to carry this momentum on to Dover, where he has found success, but more so misery as of late.
Stewart has two wins at the Monster Mile, when he swept both events in 2000. In 25 starts here, Stewart boasts 15 tops 10s, including 10 top-5 finishes. His average finish is 12.5 and he has lead 1,072 laps at the 1-mile concrete track. But Stewart has been on Miles the Monster’s bad side in his last two starts, unable to finish above 21st. At the spring race earlier this year, the driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet finished 29th, six laps down with an ill-handling car and after a fueling miscue with the new self-ventilating gas can. His driver rating at Dover, 71.4, is second-worst among the Chase drivers.
It’s easy to see why Stewart is not looking forward to returning to the Monster Mile. But he’s also on a roll, having four straight top-10 finishes - including those two wins - in the last four races. Perhaps it’s Miles the Monster who should be scared of Smoke.
2. Kevin Harvick – Supporting a great cause and looking to overtake the lead – By Kristin Weaver
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 0
After finishing 12th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend, Kevin Harvick sits second in the Sprint Cup Series standings behind Tony Stewart and ready to take on the Monster Mile in the No. 29 Rheem Chasing the Cure Chevrolet Impala.
This weekend Harvick will be behind the wheel of a black and pink Chevy for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Harvick's wife, DeLana, will also wear a specifically designed pink and black Rheem firesuit for the race. Prior to the start of the AAA 400 on Sunday, she will present the Young Survival Coalition (Rheem's Charity) with a duplicate firesuit signed by everyone on the No. 29 team.
Harvick’s stats at Dover International Speedway, a 1-mile track, are mixed. The 2007 Daytona 500 winner has an average finish of 17th in 21 races, two top 5s and eight top 10s. Dover International Speedway is known for its mascot named Miles the Monster, who likes to take a bite of cars on the track and hoists the winner’s car off the track. Could this be the weekend we see Miles hoisting No. 29 outside Victory Lane?
3. Brad Keselowski – No longer a wild card – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 0, Wins: 0
Starting the Chase as a wild card, Keselowski has proven to be a true contender for the Sprint Cup championship.
As the series heads to Dover, Keselowski has only raced the Monster Mile three times. With finishes of 18th, 22nd and 13th, Keselowski is looking forward to heading to tangle with Miles in hopes of being the driver to slay the Monster.
Via Twitter, Keselowski said, “Feeling really good about Dover this weekend. It's kinda like a bigger concert, high bank version of Bristol. And I LOVE Bristol.”
4. Carl Edwards – Looking to flip his way into Victory Lane – By Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 10, Wins: 1
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, will be headed to a racetrack where he has been very competitive in top finishes, leading laps (416) and capturing a win – Dodge Dealers 400 (September 2007). Edwards is very optimistic about his chances this weekend and he seems to love racing at Dover
“I’ve loved Dover ever since the first time I went there in the trucks with Jack. It’s a fun racetrack. It’s got a high sensation of speed, but those concrete tracks really boil down to how good your car is and how precise you can get that setup. I feel like Bob and I have really good communication and we’re able to really dial the car in and then the track doesn’t change much, so we can really work towards that goal all weekend and march closer and closer to that perfect setup. There is less firing from the hip and more marching through the setup and changes. I really like that style and that race track is just a lot of fun.”
Edwards is currently seeded fourth in the Sprint Cup Chase points standings, 14 points between leader Tony Stewart.
5. Jeff Gordon – Don’t count him out – By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 14, Top 10s: 21, Wins: 4
With 85 career victories, three of those coming in the 2011 season, Jeff Gordon shouldn't be counted out as a possible Sprint Cup champion. Although Gordon has struggled at times at the Monster Mile, he has four career victories to his name. Gordon struggled at Dover in May, finishing 17th, but since then has added two additional victories to his resume and seems to have reignited his fire.
Rebounding from a poor finish at Chicago to finish fourth at Loudon, Gordon knows that his time is running short. In regards to Dover, Gordon considers qualifying well to be the key to a good weekend, saying, “This is a real fast track, so being in 'clean' air makes your life that much easier during the race on Sunday.” Look for Gordon to finish strong this weekend and finally put the doubts about his chances to rest.
6. Kyle Busch – Mid-pack struggles – By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 7, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 2
This week the series heads to Dover International Speedway to meet up with Miles the concrete monster and to see whose temper will flare. They'll have 400 miles to do it in the AAA 400 on Sunday.
But the rest of the field may have to watch out for Kyle Busch, who is up three positions in the standings this week after yet another fuel mileage race. Busch, driver of the No.18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, has led 20 races this season for a total of 1,188 laps, in which he has four wins, 13 tops 5s, 16 top 10s and one pole and has the season driver rating of 107.4.
Headed to Dover, Busch has an average finish of 13.8 in 13 races here among an average running position of 12.6 (8th best) and a driver rating of 102.0 (5th best). Busch has claimed has two victories at the Monster Mile along with seven tops 5s and eight top 10s.
7. Matt Kenseth – Still in the battle – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 11, Top 10s: 16, Wins: 2
Returning to the site of his first Sprint Cup start, Matt Kenseth is looking forward to meeting with Miles the Monster.
“Dover has been a good place for us in the past and it’s my favorite race track; I love going racing there. I’m looking forward to going there and hopefully we can put in a good effort and have a fast car to get another good result and keep rolling in the Chase. We’ll just do the best job we can every week, work as hard as we can on our cars and pit stops and hope that our results are good enough each and every Sunday.”
In his 25 races at Dover, Kenseth has an average starting position of 16.7 and an average finishing position of 12.4. With two wins and 11 top 5s, Kenseth looks to make ground in the Chase by returning to Dover.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Looking to make gains at Dover – By Lacy Keyser
Top 5s: 4, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 1
Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to make gains at Dover International Speedway after having bad luck last weekend. Earnhardt has an average finish of 17.8 in 23 races here. He looks to be strong even after coming off a 17th-place finish at New Hampshire, after blowing a tire on the last lap. Earnhardt will unload chassis # 88-657, which Earnhardt had a 16th-place finish back in August at Bristol and his second-place finish at Kansas.
I think Earnhardt could very well be a threat to this Chase; I wouldn’t count him out just yet. The No. 88 team said they were bringing their A game to the Chase, and I think that’s exactly what they will do.
9. Kurt Busch – Double Deuce looking to rebound – By Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 0
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge, is looking to rebound from last week’s trials and tribulations at Loudon. He and his team are looking to move forward so that they can make their way toward the top of the Chase points standings.
"It was kind of strange how things shook out in last year's Chase," offered Busch. "I actually went into the final 10 races of the season pointing to the Dover race as perhaps our biggest hurdle of them all. We were able to pull out a fourth in that race and it turned out to be our best finish during the Chase.”
“We've seen that type of situation carry over this season, too and it’s pretty neat that we've been able to do so well on the atypical tracks – at the tracks and in the races where we haven't had that great of finishes in the past.”
Busch is currently seeded ninth in the Sprint Cup Chase points standings, 28 points behind leader Tony Stewart.
10. Jimmie Johnson – Atypical start to the Chase for Johnson – By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 8, Top 10s: 13, Wins: 6
2011 hasn't been a typical season for Jimmie Johnson. Although the team has had many good weekends, they've also struggled mightily at times, causing many to wonder if the No. 48's reign atop the Sprint Cup Series is coming to an end.
Luckily for Johnson, the series is heading to one of his best tracks this weekend, and his opportunity to bounce back has never been better. Johnson and the Lowes Chevrolet have won three of the last five races at Dover Speedway and finished seventh in the spring event after leading 207 of 400 laps.
Following last weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Johnson said, “You’ve just got to take every race at it comes. You never know what’s going to happen, and in my experience in winning five (consecutive championships), we lost the points lead due to a wreck in the last lap at Talladega and still came back and won. So anything can happen."
11. Ryan Newman - In need of a win to save his Chase hopes - By Genevieve Cadorette
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 11, Wins: 3
Ryan Newman heads to one of his favorite racetracks, Dover International Speedway, this weekend as he sits 11th in points. He has a good history at the Monster Mile; however, the last time the Stewart-Haas driver was at Dover, he started in 28th and finished 21st.
The possibility of winning the Chase this year is unlikely, but to keep the dream alive, Newman needs a second win. After running out of fuel in Chicagoland and a flat tire at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Newman fell from 6th in points to 11th and to rebound from that may prove difficult. But Newman believes he has the team to be competitive enough to run with the leaders.
"We've put ourselves in a hole, but the good news is that we still have eight races to go to make up the difference," noted Newman. "We've been known for our comebacks and the way we fight through adversity. One thing you always hear from our Soldiers is that you never quit and you complete the mission. That's what this Army race team has done and will always continue to do."
12. Denny Hamlin – Struggling under pressure of the Chase – By Holly Machuga
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 0
At this time last year, Hamlin was sitting first in points, so it may be upsetting to find him so low in the Chase this season. However, this season has been one of the roughest for the No. 11 team.
Headed to Dover International Speedway, Hamlin has an average start of 15.5 and an average finish of 20.9. After the fuel issues from last week, the No. 11 team is looking for a win.
Hamlin announced earlier in the week during a teleconference that he would be seeking counseling from a sports psychologist to improve his attitude and outlook on things. When asked about taking chances with eight races to go, Hamlin said, “Yeah, definitely, I believe so. You know, when you have the pressure of winning a championship, a lot goes into that.”
Check back at Skirts and Scuffs on Monday for our Dover recap.