Author Topic: Dover Downs (and Ups)  (Read 1490 times)


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Dover Downs (and Ups)
« on: June 03, 2007, 07:01:44 AM »
Off to Dover we go, to a concrete, high-banked, "self-cleaning" mile track known as "The Monster Mile".  This place has just about everything to offer: high speeds, hotels, condos, horse racing, casinos, and even some pretty darn good car racing.  The one thing it lacks is a 43rd pit stall.  This means that until a car drops out of the race (e.g. due to an accident or mechanical failure), two cars/teams will have to share a pit stall. 

While the lack of a forty-third stall is often a non-story, this can cause all sorts of havoc, as one car is forced to stay on the track an extra lap while waiting for the other to pit.  Typically speaking, the higher running of the two will pit first.  When the second car pulls in for their stop, it can be quite the challenge to not lose a lap as a result.  It seems that the networks ignore this little ballet because it usually involves two "lower tier" teams, but as we saw happen last year when the #48 had to share a stall, sometimes it even involves a championship level team.  Considering that there aren't any "field fillers" per se this year, we very well could see this come into play during the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Visa.

Who to Watch
Who? #83, Brian Vickers
Why? Not to sound like a broken record here, but Vickers still owns Toyota's *only* Top 5 and Top 10 finishes in the Cup series.  When he has made the show this year, he has generally performed quite well.  Vickers is a streaky driver, and after a Top 5 finish last week in the season's longest race (the Coca-Cola 600), he's a good candidate to add another good finish to his resume this weekend.

Who? #43, Bobby Labonte
Why? In Bobby's first 10 races at Dover International Speedway, he had 9 finishes of fifth or better, including one win.  While his last four starts in a Gibbs car at Dover were nothing to write home about (average finish of 27.3), in 2006 Labonte piloted the famed #43 of Petty Enterprises to an average finish of tenth in the two Dover races.  Last week Kyle Petty pulled off a Top 5 run; this week it's Bobby's turn.

Who? #5, Kyle Busch
Why? In four starts at The Monster Mile, Kyle Busch has three Top 5 finishes.  There's just something about this track that he likes.  When you consider his record at Dover, and that Hendrick Motorsports has won all five COT races, and Busch himself wheeled the COT to victory lane at Bristol earlier this year (another high-banked concrete oval), a strong Top 5 run seems to be a sure bet for the Kellogg's car this weekend.

Who? #26, Jamie McMurray
Why? McMurray has run very well at Dover.  Last June he led the most laps and narrowly lost to teammate Matt Kenseth when the #17 passed him with just 3 laps remaining.  He has two Top 10s (both 9th) in the COT, and has run well in the other COT races.  He *really* needs a solid run this weekend, as he is only 13 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for twelfth in the standings, which is the final slot that is eligible for The Chase.

Who? #31, Jeff Burton
Why? Burton broke a 5+ year winless drought when he pulled into Dover's Victory Lane last September.  It was a strong indicator that not only was RCR back in the game, but so was Mr. Burton.  After being a consistent front-runner during the first few races this season, the #31 has struggled a bit since their win at Texas, falling to fifth in the standings, 344 points behind Jeff Gordon.  Now that the whole AT&T vs. NASCAR thing is behind them (at least for now), the #31 should be able to get back to focusing their energies on the racing.  Dover is a good track for them to kick-start their summer and get back into the groove.

Who? #42, Juan Pablo Montoya
Why? You're thinking that I'm forecasting a Top 5 or Top 10 finish for The Wrecking Ball, aren't you?  Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not.  I think this is the week that JPM learns what revenge is like on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.  After wrecking God only knows how many people through the season's first dozen races (and let's not even mention the Busch Series wrecks), Montoya has made his fair share of enemies.  One (or more?) of his newfound "buddies" is likely to take a shot at him this weekend since they know that the "self-cleaning" nature of the track at Dover greatly diminishes the likelihood of involving other cars.  I doubt that it'll look like anything other than "one of those racing incidents", but my bet is on the #42 being loaded onto a wrecker all wadded up.

Who's Going to Win
This is a tough race to call.  Once again, it's pretty difficult to bet against the Hendrick guys, since they've been dominant all year long.  Then you have the Gibbs tandem of Stewart and Hamlin who have had arguably the best cars for the COT races, but for one reason or another have yet to lead the field to the checkers.  Then there's Matt Kenseth whose team has steadily improved their performance in the new car.  Let's look at each one (#11, #17, #20, #24, and #48) in a bit more detail:

#11, Denny Hamlin.  Will his newly configured pit crew put their game face on and deliver in crunch time?  If they do, the #11 bunch stands a really good chance of notching Win #1 of the season this weekend.  If they don't?  Well, I guess we'll have to watch another heartbroken Hamlin give an interview while lamenting about the "woulda, coulda, shoulda".

#17, Matt Kenseth.  They run up front every week.  They finish up front (Top 5, Top 10) nearly every week.  Every now and again they turn up the heat a little bit and decide to visit Victory Lane, including in this race last year.  On the other hand, in what he called at the time "the dumbest thing I've ever done in my life", Kenseth could decide to park the car on top of the water barrels at the entrance to pit road like he did in September of 2004.

#20, Tony Stewart.  Much like his former teammate, Bobby Labonte, Stewart's -worst- finish in his first 12 visits to Dover was 11th.  During that stretch he accumulated two wins, two seconds, a third, two fourths, two fifths, a sixth, and a seventh place finish.  That's an insane 4.25 average finish.  Tony obviously likes the track, and very well could jump-start his summer by grabbing a win this weekend.  Then again, when one looks at Stewart's history in NASCAR, his hot streaks don't typically start until late June or early July.  2007 is shaping up like a "typical Tony Stewart year" so far, so maybe he won't win until Sonoma?

#24, Jeff Gordon is aggravated with a fifth consecutive Charlotte race being thrown away, especially with such a good car.  Plus he is working his tail off to have a huge points lead come time for his daughter to be born, so that he can afford to take a race off and still be the leader.  Those two items work in his favor for getting a win this weekend.  But then again, since the doctors won't let Ingrid travel to the races now, will his mind be focused on the track, or the wife?

#48, Jimmie Johnson.  What can you say?  This team is capable of winning pretty much any week of the year, at pretty much any race track.  Johnson's only apparent weakness is the road course events.  He has three wins at Dover.  Will he do it again this weekend?

I want to have faith in Hamlin's pit crew, but I just can't seem to bring myself to do that yet.  I want to have faith in Stewart starting his summer hot streak early, but also can't seem to believe fully in it.  I want to put faith in Kenseth going for the win, but something tells me he'll settle in for another Top 5.  I don't really care to think about Johnson at the moment, so that leaves me with only Gordon.  Okay, I've talked myself into it: the #24 wins this weekend, adding win #79 to the record books, and win #4 on the season.

Happy racing.