The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Can Truex Repeat For Your Team, Or Will Cousin Carl Continue To Own The Monster? by Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff -- Thursday May 29, 2008

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Dover International Speedway is one of the toughest tracks on the schedule, a concrete bullring with very tricky transitions on and off of the straightaways. The race offers drivers a multitude of opportunities to be caught up in someone else’s mess, and often, a driver ends up on the rollback due to no fault of their own. Coming off the longest race on the schedule, Dover is hardly a relaxing break, since this track can take a great physical toll on a driver’s body.

After surviving the series’ endurance test, now it’s time to shore up your fantasy team from slamming into those roller coaster wrecks. But there is a bright side: this race leans towards higher predictability when it comes to on track performance. Last weekend was full of twists and turns; fortunes of drivers came and went as the time of day changed and the temperatures dropped. Fortunately, this weekend’s race is all during the daylight, and a concrete surface will not change in temperature as much as the asphalt in Charlotte.

So, can Kyle Busch continue his dominating start to the season? Will Jeff Burton ever fall off the lead lap? And can Tony Stewart ever get a Goodyear tire he likes? Read this week’s Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans to find out, and in the process, see if our experts can help your roster avoid the wrath of the Monster Mile. We’ll do our best to get your fantasy team on track to the top of your league.

Bryan’s Race Rewind:

One year ago at Dover, not even Mother Nature could deny Martin Truex, Jr. his first career Cup series win. Racing on a Monday following a rain delay, Truex led 216 laps to score the victory on his hometown track (Truex grew up in nearby Mayetta, NJ). The win for the No. 1 car, a Dale Earnhardt, Inc. entry, was the first by a non-Hendrick Motorsports team in a CoT race in 2007. It was an off day in general for HMS, as Jeff Gordon’s ninth place run was the team’s only Top 10 finish on the afternoon. Pole sitter Ryan Newman led 135 laps and finished second to Truex, with Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth rounding out the Top 5. It was a relatively quiet day for the Monster, with the only major incident a confrontation between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. After Stewart wrecked Busch on the frontstretch, Busch sped into Stewart’s pit box, nudging the No. 20 car and nearly hitting a crew member in retaliation.

Mike’s Keys to the Race:

The Monster Mile isn’t a name that was just hung on Dover International Speedway. This track will fool you, reaching up and grabbing a driver who fails to pay attention. But if the car stays together, Dover’s concrete surface proves very beneficial to the teams who get their setup right. Concrete tracks do not fluctuate as greatly in temperature as asphalt, so the tire adhesion does not vary as the temperature heats up during the race. It’s also less porous than asphalt, so the amount of rubber that adheres to the track is generally not quite as much — leading to greater consistency throughout a green flag run.

There are several drivers who have had a handle at Dover as of late; but one team in particular stands out. Expect to see the Roush cars perform well during this race, as their teams have combined for nine Top 10 finishes in their last three starts at the track. Also, keep an eye on the Richard Childress Racing cars, considering the last time the series raced at a concrete short track in Bristol this March, the top three spots went to cars out of their stable.

Mike’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Carl Edwards has not just been on a roll on intermediate tracks this season; he has all but owned Dover as of late. With a win, a second, and a third in his last three visits to the Monster Mile, you have to consider him a prohibitive favorite heading into Sunday’s 400-miler. Edwards has always been a good driver on concrete, as was evidenced by his great run on the surface in his Nationwide car last year. Expect to see him pull off another strong run at the Monster again this weekend.

Jeff Burton is a Top 15 machine this year. He has completed every lap run this season, finished no worse than 13th in each race, and registered a Top 10 run in eight of twelve starts so far in 2008. And this one-mile oval’s been good to the No. 31 team as of late; Burton won at Dover in the Fall of 2006, and has been in the Top 15 for all of the last six races he’s run there. Don’t forget that Burton took the checkered flag earlier this year on the high, concrete banks at Bristol, too.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Kurt Busch is very good at Bristol; but unfortunately for him, this is Dover. For whatever reason, Busch is just not nearly as strong in Delaware as he is in Tennessee, even though those two tracks share a similar surface and banking. Busch’s average finish at Dover is 20.7, and he only has four Top 10 finishes in 15 career races there. Busch has shown some flashes this year of getting back to championship form, but do not expect to see it happen at Dover.

David Ragan is the surprise story of the year in the Cup series. He is currently 13th in points, and was eligible for the Chase at the start of last weekend’s race at Charlotte. But while Ragan’s year has looked better, his history at Dover is not as good. He’s got just one Top 15 for his career, and his average finish is a lowly 27th at the track. It’s true that Ragan could surprise just like he has the rest of the year, but Dover is a Monster and can take longer to get a feel for than most of the other tracks on the circuit. It’s a good idea to leave Ragan on the bench this weekend.

Roll The Dice:

Mark Martin is a grizzled old veteran who is now just running a partial schedule. For the most part, he can race at tracks that he likes, and sit on the couch for tracks that he doesn’t. But when it comes to Dover, don’t expect him to ever be sitting idle at home. Martin has stated more than a few times that after Charlotte, the Monster is his favorite track on the schedule — and he has the stats to back it up. Martin’s average finish in the last 10 years has been 11.1, he’s won at the track four times, and he’s driving for DEI — a team who’s done well on short tracks with the new car design. Look for another solid finish for Martin this weekend.

Bryan’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Greg Biffle’s record at the Monster Mile is, to put it lightly, intimidating. Biffle has not finished outside the Top 10 at Dover since September of 2005; even more impressive, he hasn’t finished outside the Top 15 there since June of 2004. Biffle scored an average finish of 4.0 at the track last year in CoT competition, and comes into the weekend with considerable momentum after a runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600, a race that followed a Darlington start where he led 95 laps before being sidelined with mechanical failure. Roush Fenway Racing has been monstrous of late at this one mile oval, so look for Biffle and his No. 16 to carry the banner for the team.

Martin Truex, Jr. has been coming to Dover for a long time throughout his racing career, be it in the Camping World East Series, Nationwide Series, and now the Cup level. And, as you might expect, Truex has come into his own as a Cup driver at the track closest to his hometown. He’s scored an average finish of 6.67 in his last three starts here; of course, that includes his first Sprint Cup victory from last June. Truex will be back on the home turf this weekend, and likely more than up to the challenge of defending his biggest win to date.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Kevin Harvick finished 20th in both CoT races at Dover last year, and neither of those finishes were pretty. Harvick finished two laps down in the Spring Race; just four months later, his No. 29 team doubled that output, running four laps back and looking utterly lost on the high concrete banks of the Monster Mile. Happy Harvick’s team has also lost its momentum this season. Since a runner-up finish at Bristol, Harvick has scored only one Top 10, and has slipped from second to seventh in points. The No. 29 will have to literally come to a revelation to get their car competitive this weekend.

Tony Stewart has had success at Dover in the past; but as of late, he has been far from fantasy gold. Stewart did score a Top 10 in the Fall race at the track last year, but more telling is that he has failed to finish on the lead lap in his last six starts at Dover — including two DNFs in his last three races there. Stewart will certainly be looking to rebound after coming oh-so-close to his first Coca-Cola 600 victory, but will likely have to wait till Pocono to do so.

Ryan Newman’s record at Dover makes him a good Roll The Dice pick for this weekend — if you have room for him on your roster.

Roll the Dice:

Ryan Newman has quite the track record at Dover, with a Nationwide Series win as well as four poles and three wins in the Cup Series. Last year, Newman’s performance at the track was no exception to his recent history. After winning the pole in the Spring race, Newman led 135 laps and finished second, the only driver in the same zip code as eventual race winner Martin Truex, Jr. In the Fall, Newman finished 28th after being caught up in a wreck not of his making, but prior to the accident, he had moved from his 24th starting position into the Top 5 and was in position to contend for the win. If you’ve got room on your roster, he’s a perfect fit as a middling driver who’ll do well for your team.

Trash Talk:

Mike: Hey Bryan, I wanted to start off this week by welcoming you to Picks ‘n’ Pans. I look forward to kicking your butt just as much as I kicked Cami’s! I hope you can tolerate the abuse. That said, I see you’ve been drinking the New England Kool Aid and think Truex is going to recover the glory he started last Summer with in Dover.
Bryan: Experience talks, Mike. Truex has seen this track constantly in his career, from the Camping World East Series all the way to Sprint Cup. It’s one of his home tracks, the site of his first win, and he’ll be raring to repeat.
Mike: Oh, I know he is raring to, but I’m not sure he’s quite as ready as he was last year. Biffle, on the other hand, will probably be near the front for a good part of the race — but I’m just curious if he can avoid a loose wheel for the first time in what, a month and a half?
Bryan: He had a loose wheel last week and still nabbed a Top 5 finish, though. Biffle hasn’t finished outside the Top 10 at Dover since 2005, and hasn’t finished outside the Top 15 since June of 2004. That’s impressive.
Mike: I agree, he’s been good there — even when he was sucking it up most everywhere else. I’m just not sure Biffle can have luck on his side, though… I think the real Roush driver to keep an eye on this weekend is going to be Edwards.
Bryan: Edwards’ rep as king of the concrete is well-deserved, and he’s definitely got momentum, so it’s hard to argue that pick. But Biffle’s due. He’s running too well to keep falling victim to loose wheels.
Mike: Well, I hope you’re wrong so that I can start off our battle ahead of you. I’m sure Jeff Burton, the guaranteed Top 15 machine, is going to give me another strong finish this weekend. It is amazing how consistently strong he’s been this year.
Bryan: Jeff Burton is safe for the Top 10, Top 15… but I don’t see him in Victory Lane this weekend. And for those teams — like my own — needing a comeback and thus, needing wins, Burton’s just too conservative a pick.
Mike: Hey, Burton won there in 2006 and the last time the series visited a high bank concrete race track, he was the one who took the trophy home. I see you’re thinking Stewart’s recent luck at Dover is going to win out over his early career success there.
Bryan: Here’s an interesting fact about Stewart; he has failed to finish on the lead lap at Dover in the last six races there. Granted, one of those can be thrown out, as he was replaced midrace by Ricky Rudd; but five straight finishes off the lead lap is not fantasy bank.
Mike: Oh, I know; Stewart’s recent history has not been good, but he can get around that track. His first 13 races there, he finished in the Top 15 with two wins and nine Top 5s. I think he’s a bigger risk than Harvick, honestly… I don’t know what’s going on with the No. 29 bunch. They have seemed off lately.
Bryan: They have seemed off this season everywhere. But speaking of risky, I would like to hear why you feel David Ragan, arguably the series’ most improved driver, will be off this weekend?
Mike: Ragan certainly has been much better this year, and is turning some heads. I think he’ll probably end up in the Chase, but his short tracks haven’t been anything but middle of the pack, and his record at Dover isn’t very good. I may regret it when the checkered flag drops, but I’m thinking he’s not going to do much this weekend.
Bryan: Gotta disagree there… Ragan tore up a lot of cars last year, but finished both Dover races, and Roush runs like gangbusters there. He’ll be one to watch. Now, why should the gamblers at Dover Downs roll the dice on the veteran Mark Martin?
Mike: Dover is Mark’s second favorite track on the schedule, and DEI has won at the track four times. He also ran a very impressive race at Charlotte with a broken header; to me, he’s definitely worth a roll of the dice, just like your pick of Newman. That guy’s got a nice record at the Monster Mile, although his last four races have been pretty schizophrenic.
Bryan: Newman’s record isn’t quite as schizo as it may appear on paper. He came home second in the Spring, and was running Top 5 in the Fall before getting taken out in a wreck not of his making. Dover’s as close to surefire for the No. 12 as it comes.
Mike: Well, I guess we’ll have to see how it all pans out.

Scorecard

The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current Top 25 of the driver standings, and Roll The Dice drivers can not be in the Top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.

This is Bryan’s first week picking races, so the season averages will start over next week. It wasn’t fair to burden him with Cami’s lackluster results… speaking of that, here are the standings after Cami’s final race picks.

Season Averages:

Cami:

Crank – 15.4
Sit – 21.9
Roll – 12.8

Mike:

Crank – 12.0
Sit – 24.7
Roll – 13.6

Contact Mike Neff

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