As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaves its longest race of the season, the 600-miler at Charlotte, the field can look forward to a relatively short 400 miles for the Fed-Ex 400 at Dover International Speedway Sunday.
Those 400 miles, however, come at the track nicknamed the Monster. The one-mile concrete oval has always been one of the toughest on the circuit, providing physical challenges to drivers and mechanical tests for crew chiefs. A few drivers have Dover figured out and some always struggle. It’s feast or famine.
One driver who has Dover figured out is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson won three of the last seven races here and has two Top-5s and a Top-10 finish in the other four. In addition, he has more wins than any other active driver, six overall, and the highest driver rating. He was second in the fall race and will look to add a second win to this season’s total. But ask Johnson why he does well at Dover and even he can’t quite understand it.
“I honestly don’t know,” Johnson told reporters. “It just suits my driving style and I guess you could say my stats show that. You really have to learn how to get through the corners there. If you get it to turn in the center and you get good forward grip off of the corner you will typically turn a good lap. That’s the tough part though, figuring out how to get your car do that. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got for it though.”
Another driver in the “feast” category at Dover is Matt Kenseth. Kenseth has two wins here, including one in this race last year. He finished fifth in the fall and has six Top-5 finishes in the last seven races. He’s also second in the championship standings.
“Dover is my favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit, and it’s been a place where we’ve had a lot of success at as well, so I just love racing there,” Kenseth said. “The track is so fast and challenging, and it’s unique because of the way you drive up out of the turns. The turns sit a bit lower than the straightaways and you can feel it when you’re driving out there. We’re just going to continue to try and put ourselves up front and into position to be able to be consistent each and every week.”
The Busch brothers have also found success at the Monster Mile. Kurt won the race last fall, while younger brother Kyle has two wins here, the last in 2010. Kyle will get the nod as this week’s spoiler, as Kurt is still trying to find his way with a new team. Kyle on the other hand is coming off a third-place finish at Charlotte last week and has had consistent finishes. He appears ready to score his second win of the season each and every week.
Carl Edwards vs. Greg Biffle: The Roush-Fenway teammates are having opposite seasons. Edwards is struggling while Biffle is leading the points. Both have won here before, but there’s a sense that Edwards is ready to stage a turnaround and begin a slow recovery. Look for Edwards to prevail in this matchup.
Martin Truex J. vs. Ryan Newman: Both Truex and Newman have won here and both are having OK seasons. Dover is the site of Truex’s first career win, that coming in 2007, while Newman’s win came in 2004. However, both were with other teams at the time, so it’s a different scenario now. Truex had the pole here in the fall but finished 30th, while Newman finished 23rd. Based on that recent history, look for Newman to repeat and finish ahead of Truex Sunday.
Starting near the front is important - 51 races at Dover have been won from a Top-5 starting position while 18 races have been won from a starting position outside the Top 10. Thirteen drivers have won from the pole. The last to do so was Jimmie Johnson, in the 2010 September race. The furthest back in the field a race winner started was 37th, by Kyle Petty in 1995.
Jimmie Johnson (+600)
Matt Kenseth (+1000)
Kyle Busch (+800)