There are rhythm tracks and there are power tracks. Like New Hampshire, Dover is a rhythm track which brings high stakes to NASCAR. The corners come up on a driver in a hurry and they have to hit precise marks lap after lap in order to set fast times. When they are clear of traffic, that is not nearly as much of a problem as when a competitor is bearing down on their back bumper, but with both courses measuring only a mile in length, cars are rarely free of traffic.
Dover and Bristol have been considered “sister” tracks but throughout the recent years the similarities have been diminished. But with Bristol’s bankings at a mere 24 degrees which mirror Dover’s banking the two courses are close enough that we can compare a driver’s records on them and make some assumptions.
This year’s Chase has done exactly what NASCAR intended by taking interest to a higher level in the past 10 races of the season. Not only does this Chase keep the fans guessing it also keeps the drivers guessing from week to week. Jimmie Johnson was used to being a dominate factor in the Chase; but this year he has struggled throughout the races and is not sitting as the points leader. So who’s in the favorites and who is out?
Ranked 10th on the current points list in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson will need some more ‘luck’ heading into week three of the Chase- Wonder if it’s too late to get that ‘golden’ horseshoe back? Dover has been a track where Jimmie Johnson has dominated from the pole and Dover is the track where Johnson can get his “luck” back by rolling the dice at Dover.
Another driver looking for a little bit of luck and has found a lot of it at Dover is Kyle Busch. If Joe Gibbs Racing wants the Championship this year they need to focus on Kyle Busch. He is the other driver with a three-race streak of Dover top-10s to his credit, but two of his three efforts have ended in top-fives, including a victory in last year’s spring Autism Speaks 400. Last week, Busch finished 11th at New Hampshire and he’s still looking for his first top-10. Unless he begins to accumulate single-digit results, he is not going to have a chance to catch up to the leaders and for him the future starts this week. The team will be highly focused on a track that has been kind to the No. 18. If they can’t turn their season around now, it is unlikely to happen in the final seven races, which adds a sense of urgency to the situation. Look for the JGR team to gamble and roll with it.
Carl Edwards has been lucky and good during the past several weeks. Dating back to a ninth at Bristol, he has accumulated three top-fives and a perfect record of top-10s in his past five attempts even though he has not appeared to have a dominant car most weekends. Last week, he struggled in practice and qualified poorly. He hit a low point midway through the Sylvania 300 when he spun Kenseth, but somehow the two managed to climb back inside the top 15 in the closing laps and had enough fuel to earn top-10s as others ran out in front of them. Edwards is one of only two drivers to enter the weekend with three consecutive top-10s at Dover and that means he has hit on the right setup and strategy in the past two years. No matter how this race plays out, he should be a top-10 challenger.
Teammate, Matt Kenseth is also in this mix. Although Kenseth had a little bit of a run in with Edwards but none the less they both bounced back. Kenseth is looking to have the run of his life and well, he could really use a great finish to help keep him in the hunt.
Last week we listed Tony Stewart as the favorite to win and he didn’t let us down. This week is going to be a little different. Stewart has some excellent runs on this track, but not recently. He swept Victory Lane at Dover in his sophomore season and has earned top-fives in nearly half his starts. Only one of those top-fives came in his own car, however. He finished second in the 2009 Autism Speaks 400, but prior to that one has to go all the way back to the 2004 season to find another. His latest two efforts on this high-banked concrete oval have been in the 20s.
This week we are going to see a high stakes race determining who is a real championship contender and who’s luck has run out a little early. Will your driver be among the top or will your driver flop?