The first week of the Chase has passed, and there were some clear cut winners and losers. On the winning side was Kevin Harvick, scoring his second straight victory in Nextel Cup, along with fellow Chasers Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin… and Mike. Landing on the other side were Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch… and Cami, who all suffered setbacks. But, there are nine races left before the championship is set, which leaves plenty of time to rebound from early disasters… or, at least some of us hope so. Up next is the Monster Mile… who will slay the beast, and who will be beaten? Let’s find out.
Dover International Speedway
Sunday, Sept. 24th, 12:30 p.m. on TNT and MRN
2005 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
2005 Race Winner: Johnson
Mike’s Keys to the Race
The self-cleaning high banks of Dover offer a unique challenge to the Cup teams this weekend. Dover is a concrete racetrack, and concrete tracks tend to produce more consistent handling… or lack thereof. The track temperature doesn’t get as hot as asphalt, and doesn’t lose its heat as quickly as asphalt, so the end result is that teams that hit the setup early have a great chance of being up front all day. Look for drivers that don’t go up and down based on continual adjustments throughout the race; consistency is key here. The tracks also don’t change as much with age, so teams that have been successful at Dover in the past will most likely be successful again.
Cami’s Instant Replay
Last year, Johnson took over the points lead with his win at Dover, the third of his career. Johnson got plenty of help from teammate Busch, who shared his test notes with the No. 48 team prior to the race. In a bit of irony, it was Busch that Johnson had to hold off in a green-white-checker finish. Kyle’s older brother Kurt Busch had been the dominant car earlier in the day, leading 192 laps before having to come into the pits for a flat tire late in the race and having his troubles compounded with a speeding penalty. Chase contenders Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Newman rounded out the top-five finishers.
Crank ‘Em Up
Tony Stewart finds himself on the outside looking in at the Chase. The defending champ now has no pressure, just one goal… to WIN. Stewart has the second-highest average finish at Dover among active drivers, and also was very strong last weekend. Look for the Home Depot brigade to be up front again this weekend.
Kyle Busch has taken to the Monster Mile very nicely. Busch has three starts at the track, with his finishes being two seconds and a fifth. Kyle needs a strong run to regain some of the ground lost with his bad run at New Hampshire last weekend, so expect a strong finish once again from him and the Kellogg’s crew to get him back in Chase contention.
Sit ‘Em Down
Scott Riggs has not had very much success at Dover. He has five starts with only one top-five finish for his efforts, in 2004. In fact, his average finish at the track is a paltry 18.2. The No. 10 Evernham Motorsports team is coming off a bad run at Loudon. While Riggs season has been impressive after missing the Daytona 500, don’t expect him to do too much at the Monster Mile.
Kasey Kahne should have won the race at Dover a couple of years ago. Leading late in the race after dominating the event, he slipped in the oil put down by another car blowing up and slammed into the wall in turn 4. That was one of the few bright spots for Kahne at Dover. Yes, he finished seventh in the event there this spring, but that is his only top 15 at the track; his average finish there is a pedestrian 24.2. Kahne put forth a Herculean effort to make the Chase, but that run could come to an end this weekend.
Roll the Dice
Greg Biffle is still trying to regain the success he had last year on the Cup circuit. Early in the season, Biffle led a ton of laps but couldn’t seal the deal, having mechanical failures and being caught in other people’s problems that ultimately cost the No. 16 Roush Racing team a shot at the championship. Even with that up and down season, Biffle still managed to run steady at Dover, with four successive top-15 finishes here, including a win in 2005. Look for Biffle to have a rebound effort this weekend and bring home a top-10 finish to keep him alive in the race for 11th place in points.
Crank ‘Em Up
Martin came out of Loudon with an 11th-place finish that moved him up to sixth in the standings. This week at Dover, I see better things for the No. 6 team as they battle for their first championship. It’s obvious Martin doesn’t fear the concrete Monster; he has four wins there, and has finished in the top five in almost half of his starts. He’s currently riding a five-race top-10 streak at the track, and I look for him to make it number six on Sunday.
Even though any momentum he had got destroyed with his car hitting the outside wall last week, I’m going to forget that and go with Johnson this week. I don’t see this team putting in two poor finishes to start the Chase; plus, Johnson’s stats at Dover make him hard to overlook. He’s the defending race winner, has a total of three wins at the track, and has only finished outside the top 10 twice in nine starts. Add to that the motivation to get back into the hunt, and Johnson should do well come the checkered flag on Sunday.
Sit ‘Em Down
Despite pulling off a top-15 finish at Loudon last week, I don’t look for Robby Gordon to back that up with another good run at Dover. He finished in the top 10 twice in the first three races he ran there, but since then, has failed to finish higher than 29th in his last four starts. With an average finish of 22.8, you can do better than Robby this week.
Casey Mears started off the year on a roll, but hasn’t had much to brag about lately. He hasn’t scored a top-10 finish since the Pepsi 400 and his record at Dover doesn’t lead me to believe he will end that streak this weekend. Granted, he did score a top 10 in this race last year, but that is the exception, not the norm, for him at Dover. His nine other finishes have all been 20th or worse. There are plenty of better choices out there this week than gambling on Mears.
Roll the Dice
Speaking of gambling, Newman might steal the limelight here this weekend. He is a three-time pole winner and race winner at the Monster Mile, and has finished in the top 10 in all but two of his nine starts here. Newman’s Chase hopes were quashed long ago, and wins are the only thing this team has left to shoot for this year. Having won at least one race in the past four seasons, Newman has a good shot of making it five Sunday.
Mike: Well, after the Kyle Busch disaster last week looks like you’ve switched around your picks a bit. At least you’ll have Martin and his great team and cars to fall back on.
Cami: Martin better pull off another good one at Dover. I need all the help I can get after Mr. Bowles’s little piece of advice not to use Gordon.
Mike: You should know better than to listen to Tom. Remember, his fantasy knowledge consists of something about Paris Hilton… and his apartment.
Cami: Oh yeah… I’ve learned my lesson. So you think you’re gonna have better luck with Kyle than I did last week?
Mike: Yeah, looking at his past performance, I think that team will bounce back this week.
Cami: Odd that neither one of us jumped on the Hot Harvick bandwagon this week.
Mike: I thought that was too easy. I didn’t want to let our readers think we take the easy way out.
Cami: The easy way out doesn’t sound too bad to me. I tried to be bold last week and look where it got me.
Mike: I thought for sure you’d ride the Elliott Sadler train this week for Roll the Dice. The dude has been pretty hot since going to Evernham.
Cami: He burned me too bad last week. I’m still upset from that beating I took… hope you enjoy the head start I gave you.
Mike: I will certainly relish it. Hopefully I can hang onto it for another week.
Cami: We’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Standings after Week 1
|Crank Em Up||Kenseth-10th||5||Burton- 7th||5|
|Johnson- 39th||-5||Ky. Busch- 38th||-5|
|Sit Em Down||Mears- 21st||0||Sadler- 6th||-5|
|Riggs- 36th||5||J. Gordon- 3rd||-10|
|Roll the Dice||Stewart- 2nd||15||Biffle- 14th||5|