What: FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks
Where: Dover International Speedway
(1- mile high-banked concrete oval)
Distance: 400 laps/400 miles
Green Flag: 1:15 PM (ET)
Defending Winner: Kyle Busch
Storylines To Follow
Kyle vs. Kevin, Kevin vs. Kyle
All eyes this weekend, and really for the next three weeks after, will be on Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch as they deal with the fallout from last Saturday’s festivities
Harvick said in his Friday press conference, that being placed on probation for four races will definitely affect how he drives. Imagine for a moment if either he or Busch has a bobble on the track that sends them into another car, which then wrecks. While the slip may be nothing more than an accident, it’s possible NASCAR wouldn’t see it that way and could take the move as a violation of their probation. If that were to happen, the consequences could be dire.
Dale Jr. Looking for a Bounce Back
After consecutive weeks where the 88 team squandered likely top-10 finishes, first at Richmond due to poor fuel mileage, then last week at Darlington where Dale Earnhardt Jr. received a pit road commitment penalty. Dover looms as a place where they need to get the wheels back on the proverbial track. Helping matters is the team meeting Dale Earnhardt called earlier this week where he apologized for his costly gaffe. All the particulars involved say they’ve moved on and they’re ready to refocus on getting their driver back to victory lane for the first time in nearly three years.
Denny Hamlin Rounding Into Form
With back-to-back top-10s, it appears Denny Hamlin has righted the ship after a listless start to 2011. Although he’s still a long way from the form which won him eight races a year ago, he’s certainly a lot closer to finding it than he’s been at any point this year. The bad news for him is that Dover, up until last year, has been his own personal house of horrors. At one point things were so bad; Hamlin had a five race stretch where he finished no better than 22nd. But last year this team committed itself to finding a way to tame the Monster Mile, and the results saw them posting top-10 finishes in both races. If they can continue that success Sunday, you have to like this team’s chances heading into the summer months on the strength of three straight top-10s.
There are a host of big names still not locked into next week’s All-Star Race. Among them are the aforementioned Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. Unless they come away with a win tomorrow (unlikely), they’re going to have to jump through a variety of hoops if they want to race in NASCAR’s annual non-points showdown, with the winner receiving a cool $1 mil.
● With another win, Jimmie Johnson will tie Bobby Allison and Richard Petty with a track-best seven victories.
● 82 times the Sprint Cup Series has raced on the one-mile concrete oval, but only twice has a driver scored their first Cup victory. The first driver to do so was Jody Ridley in 1981 driving for longtime NASCAR car owner Junie Donlavey. The second was Martin Truex Jr., who scored a dominating win in the spring event of 2007.
Dover International Speedway Track Records (Active)
Driver Wins: Jimmie Johnson (6)
Owner Wins: Hendrick Motorsports (13)
Manufacturer Wins: Chevrolet (31)
Average Finish: Carl Edwards (7.7)
Laps Led: Jeff Gordon (2,231)
Top-5s: Mark Martin (22)
Top-10s: Mark Martin (30)
1. Jimmie Johnson
Not only did Jimmie Johnson post the quickest lap in first practice, he also had the fastest 10-lap average. Which at Dover where long green flag runs often rule the day, is a good indicator that the 48 has hit on a setup that should make them competitive tomorrow. Also helping matters is the fact Johnson has bested the Monster Mile six times, including a win last fall when he led a race-high 191 laps. Altogether, he’s won three of the last four Dover races and has led the most laps in each.
2. Kyle Busch
If it weren’t for an engine change Friday that necessitates he starts in the back tomorrow, Kyle Busch, who won this race a year ago, would have been my No. 1 contender. Although it’s not unheard of for a driver to start in the back and then go on to win at Dover. So if Busch can avoid any potential calamity Sunday as he’s working his way towards the front, it’s more than realistic for him to be contending for his third Dover win in his last seven starts.
3. AJ Allmendinger
Wait a second, why isn’t Carl Edwards or Kevin Harvick occupying this spot? Or even Greg Biffle or Denny Hamlin for that matter? No, it isn’t just because I’m a fanboy of AJ Allmendinger. It’s because last fall in this race it was the driver of the No. 43 car owned by Richard Petty who dominated. That day the ‘Dinger led 143 laps, and would have been in contention for his first Cup victory if it hadn’t been for a bungled pit stop midway through. Starting on the outside pole tomorrow thanks to posting the second fastest lap in practice, the FedEx 400 represents as good of chance as any of getting that maiden NASCAR win.
This may be going outside the definition of a sleeper considering Ryan Newman is sixth in points. Nevertheless, in my mind he qualifies based on the fact that not many are talking about the three-time Dover winner despite the solid year he’s turned in at this point, and his prior success on the high-banked oval.
The Official Racing Geek Pick
With everything that’s transpired in the last week, now seems like a good time to take a trip down memory lane.
Last fall when the series rolled into Dover, everyone was fixated on the fallout from the race the week before at New Hampshire, as well as the war of words that erupted between the Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs camps. It was at New Hampshire if you remember where Clint Bowyer won with a car that would later be deemed illegal in post-race inspection.
As accusations were levied and payback extracted, sitting outside the fray was Jimmie Johnson. Who just sat back and smiled, knowing that while his chief rivals were focused on trivial matters, the 48 crew was focused on fine-tuning their eventual race-winning machine.
With all that’s gone on this past week, and with the spotlight firmly affixed to two cars (If you don’t know who they are, I don’t know why you’re reading this column), Johnson again finds himself in the catbird seat. On a track where he’s won more than any other active driver, that makes him the man to beat on Sunday and my pick to win this week.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media/Getty Images