We’re back in the DELMARVA this weekend for our second race at the Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware. This one mile concrete oval will do a lot to live up to its moniker this weekend, as the third race in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is run. The Broadcast day starts at 11am EDT with NASCAR Raceday on SPEED, NASCAR Countdown on ESPN at 1pm, with the race coverage on ESPN at 2pm EDT. Green Flag waves at approximately 2:15 pm EDT, following the National Anthem and a scheduled pre-race flyover of four U.S. Air Force F-16s from the 177th Fighter Wing in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The Monster Mile is known for chewing cars up and spitting them out. Considering there have only been twenty cars at the most on the lead lap for any Dover finish, there are likely to be a lot of cautions out for debris and wrecks; we’ll see just how hungry the Monster is. It’ll be a good thing that AAA is sponsoring this race, as we’ll probably need to call the wrecker multiple times. Thankfully, there is only a 20% chance of rain today, although don’t expect the temperatures to be more than in the 50′s. I’ve dealt with rain at Dover, but rain and cold is a miserable combination when waiting out the delays.
Smoke rolls into Victory Lane last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second time in as many weeks, in what became another fuel mileage race when Clint Bowyer and many others run out of fuel on the last lap. Hamlin runs out of fuel and “Denny Time” ends in the waning laps with a 29th place finish, all but killing any of his Cup chances (he’s 66 pts back); Ryan Newman’s 25th place finish puts him in nearly the same position (now 34 pts back). The rest of the Chase field jockeyed around, with Jeff Gordon making a big jump and all top-ten drivers within 29 points of the lead (Jimmie Johnson in tenth). The Monster could make or break a few more teams this weekend, putting another one or two drivers out of contention.
One editorial comment: Regardless of all the griping I hear about how people don’t like fuel mileage races, one thing some folks fail to understand: crew chiefs plan out pit stops based on their fuel windows. They hope for caution flags at certain times, and when teams are within so many laps of the finish, crew chiefs work backwards from the finish on their fuel strategies, to figure out the latest time to pit under green and still have enough fuel to finish the race. If those late-race cautions don’t come, IT’S GOING TO BE A FUEL MILEAGE RACE, since a team won’t come onto pit road for an unscheduled stop unless they absolutely have to. And fuel mileage is ALWAYS on the teams’ minds, whether it’s if a car will have the fuel to finish the race at its scheduled distance, if there is fuel for a Green-White-Checker finish, or even to stay out an extra lap during Green Flag runs to lead a lap and gain a coveted bonus point.
Best Bets: Gotta go with some high contenders again this week, as they’ve proven why they’re in the Chase here at Dover.
Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy)- Jimmie and his crew chief had a few choice words last week during the NHMS race, but they say they’re back to “business as usual” after their little spat. He’s won the last two fall Dover races, and looks to make it a third. He took a hit last week and dropped to tenth in the points standings, but I wouldn’t count him out just yet. He has finished no worse than ninth in the last four concrete track races, and has six wins, eight top-fives and thirteen top-tens at this track. He starts sixth and was twelfth-fastest in final practice, so better keep him on the radar.
Carl Edwards (#99 Aflac Ford)- Carl managed to put another one in the win column yesterday with a Nationwide win here at Dover. He’s likely got one of the cars to beat in today’s race. With a win, six top-fives, and ten top tens on this track, you can bet Carl is out to sweep the weekend and improve his standing in the Points race. He’s been no worse than eighth in the last four Dover races, with finishes of no worse than ninth in the last four concrete track races this year. He rolls off on the outside of Row 2 in fourth, and was sixteenth in final practice, but I bet crew chief Bob Osborne has a few tricks up his sleeve to get that Duck to fly.
Kurt Busch (#22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge)- Kurt was down five positions after last week’s twenty-second place finish, brought on by his temper in telling an ESPN cameraman where to go in last week’s pre-race, and when his car was held up in pre-race inspections nearly until the Green Flag. He currently sits ninth in the standings, two points behind the three tied at twenty-six points back. While winless at Dover, he’s put up five top-fives and seven top-tens. He was fourth and fifth, respectively, in the last two fall Dover races, and seems to like the fall outings here better than the spring. The highest of the Chasers in qualifying in second, he was fourteenth in final practice. Let’s see if he can redeem himself.
Dark Horses: Some unlikely faces in the stable this week; we’ll see what chances they have to put up some good numbers.
Jeff Gordon (#24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy)- Gordon managed to put a P4 in the books last week, and catapulted himself up six places to fifth, twenty-three points back. While he’s won four here at Dover, with fourteen top-fives and twenty-one top tens, he had a miserable time in qualifying. He starts all the way back in thirty-fourth, where he runs the risk of going down a lap very quickly on this one-mile track, but he was twelfth fastest in final practice. He wants to keep himself near the top of the Chase standings, but he’s got his work cut out for himself and crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Paul Menard (#27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevy)- Paul hasn’t faired too well here at Dover, but his team has gotten some big boosts this year, most notably his win at the Brickyard back in August and four top-five finishes this season. He and crew chief Slugger Labbe seem to be finding something, as he qualified third and put up a ninth-place run in final practice. We’ll see if he can outrun the Monster.
I’ll at least make an outside pitch for a couple additionals this week: Mark Martin (#5 GoDaddy.com Chevy), with four wins at this track, qualified seventeenth, but was the fastest in final practice…look for him up front. Martin Truex Jr (#56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota) had his first win here at Dover a few years ago in a rain-delayed Monday race; he won the Coors Light Pole award to roll off first today, but he was thirty-third in final practice–hope he can get things back. And of course, never count out Tony Stewart (#14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy), coming off his two wins–he’s got the most work to do, starting in twenty-eighth with a miserable forty-first final practice run. Truly the outside shot.
Rumor Mill: Some good stuff out there in news and gossip-land this week, including Michael Waltrip joining his brother Darrell in the Fox race broadcasts the first thirteen races of the 2012 season, as well as may drivers this weekend sporting pink numbers and Chevy Bowties in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Even a little lawsuit slapped on SMI’s Bruton Smith for his radio contract violation (Scene Daily).
Hamlin’s Head: Denny Hamlin is reported to be seeing a sports psychologist, an ESPN report said this week. Hamlin, in a slump since late last season, was hoping to pull off the win for the Sprint Cup last year, but ended up having a bad day, allowing Jimmie Johnson to earn his “Five Time” nickname. Denny is currently seeking help from the noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who’s worked with many PGA golfers. Hamlin said he’s now ready to just race for wins and have some fun, noting that his attitude is much better. Almost sounds like a “Tin Cup” moment.
2012 Race Dates: Just like seeing Christmas decorations already out in the stores before even Labor Day, NASCAR already posted next year’s Sprint Cup schedule this week. Lots of little changes to the schedule, including a week’s shift to the right for the Daytona 500, and the moving of the fall Talladega race to the fourth position in the Chase. See the complete schedule here.
Kenseth break-up: Matt Kenseth’s family suffered a bit of a scare this week, when his wife Katie wrecked her car practicing for the Better Half Dash charity event, to be held at Charlotte before the Bank of America 500 October 15th. While scary, to be sure, thankfully Katie came out of the wreck with only minor injuries. Matt later tweeted Monday evening: ”That didn’t turn out so well. Katie and I are home, she has a broken scapula and some bumps and bruises. Thanks for all the well wishes “ (WCNC Charlotte).
Man of the Year? Congrats to jayski.com, being named as one of the fifty best websites by Time Magazine!!!
The old man wins it: And finally, congrats to Camping World Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday, scoring his fiftieth win at Kentucky Speedway yesterday. Right now, his only problem is his lack of ride next year with KHI shutting down operations.
So bundle up, have your rain gear ready, and be ready to catch all the action on ESPN, your local PRN affiliate, or on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90). I’ll be settled in on the couch ready to follow the action on Twitter (@speedglutton) for race analysis, updates, and my usual rantings.
We’ll see how many cars the Monster gets today!
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