The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Neighborhood Excellence 400 Presented by Bank of America by Amy Henderson -- Thursday June 1, 2006

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On Track

The Neighborhood Excellence 400 Presented by the Bank of America is the thirteenth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will visit the 1-mile Dover International Speedway twice in 2006; they’ll return to run in the Chase for the Nextel Cup in September. Dover has hosted the Nextel Cup Series every year since 1969, when Richard Petty was the first driver to win in Cup competition at DIS. The track is a banked true oval track with 24 degrees of banking in the corners, and nine degrees on the two 1,076-foot straightaways, Drivers will race 400 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 polesitter Jimmie Johnson (the field was set by points due to rain) and race winner Greg Biffle.

47 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Dover is 161.522 mph, set by Jeremy Mayfield in the spring of 2004.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is shaping up nicely for 2006. Tony Stewart’s early crash at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last week widened Jimmie Johnson’s point lead to 109 over new second-place man Matt Kenseth, the first time this season a driver has had a 100-point cushion in the top spot. Mark Martin, Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. round out the top five contenders. At this point in the season, ten drivers are currently eligible for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Kyle Busch currently holds onto that spot over eleventh-place Casey Mears.

What To Expect
In a word, wrecks. Dover is famous for multi-car crashes if one car loses grip and spins or blows a tire. Dover is narrow and high-banked, so single-car incidents are rare, and many a good car has had a top finish snatched away when it is caught in another car’s mishap.

Also expect multi-groove racing and the lead changes it brings. Although it’s possible for one driver to stretch out a big lead every time the green flag drops, it doesn’t usually turn out that way as teams make adjustments throughout the race. Look for the race winner to be the best in the pits, even if they are not the best on the track.

Who to Watch
Point leader Jimmie Johnson won last fall’s Dover race, but his win came with controversy as it was discovered that his team had altered the shock absorbers to give the car more rear grip. Although legal at the time, the shocks marred Johnson’s victory; look for him to come back swinging this time as the prerace favorite for an uncontested win, which would tie Johnson for the lead among active drivers. Johnson’s teammate, Kyle Busch, was knocking on the door at the end of the race, and could well come out on top this time around despite this week’s worth of controversies. Of course, both those Hendrick drivers learned from four-time DIS winner Jeff Gordon, who is tied with Mark Martin for DIS wins among active drivers and hopes to improve on a disappointing weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Also, don’t count out last spring’s winner, Greg Biffle, whose team has been rebounding from a dismal start in the last few weeks. His teammate, Mark Martin, knows Dover’s quirks better than most (with four wins to prove it) and is a safe bet for a top five-or better-finish, as is Matt Kenseth. Ricky Rudd also has four wins at DIS, and is slated to take over the No. 20 should the injured Tony Stewart need an out; if Stewart can get the car in good position at the first caution, Rudd could help his points cause by running up front.

Did You Know:

  • That DIS once had a horse racing track inside the paved oval? The track conducted harness races on the dirt oval; and those races paid the bills for many years.

  • That just over 15% of Cup races at DIS have been won from the pole? It’s happened eleven times in Dover’s 72 Cup races. 89% of Dover’s races have been won from a starting spot inside the top ten.
  • That Rick Hendrick leads active car owners with ten wins at DIS? Along with Gordon’s four wins and Johnson’s three, Rudd, Ken Schrader, and Geoffrey Bodine have all posted victories under the Hendrick banner.

You Don’t Say"¦
“Dover has been a unique track for me. I’ve had several Top 10 cars at Dover, but last fall was the only race I’ve been able to bring the car home in 10th. Aside from last year, we’ve had blown tires and got caught up in other accidents. I think we made huge strides last weekend at Charlotte, and we are bringing a car that ran consistently earlier in the season. Donnie (Wingo) and the team have worked on it since Texas, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles this weekend.” Driver Casey Mears on his Dover luck and turning it around

“Tony’s our driver, and we’d love to have him in the car, but we want him to be 100 percent, not just for one race but for the rest of the season. We’ll do what we have to do until he heals up. This is a strong race team that’s no stranger to adversity, so I know we’ll make the best of this situation at Dover and in the weeks to come.” Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Greg Zipadelli on driver Tony Stewart’s injury and using a relief driver at DIS

“It is a long race. The green-flag runs at Dover are really what you want to see. It’s a lot like Bristol in that when you have green-flag runs, you knock a lot of laps off really quickly. When you have a lot of cautions, it takes forever. The green-flag runs are what you want to see from a driver’s standpoint.” Driver Jeff Burton on Dover’s reputation for very long races

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Contact Amy Henderson

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