The Dover 400 is the 28th race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule and the second in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. The Cup Series visits the 1-mile Dover International Speedway twice in 2006, having also run here in June. Dover has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1969, and 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 Ryan Newman and race winner Jimmie Johnson.
47 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner points will determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes. 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 summer of 2004.
To the Point
The Nextel Cup championship battle will be settled in nine weeks. A surging Kevin Harvick boosted himself into the top spot for the first time this season with his win at New Hampshire last week. Matt Kenseth dropped to third as rookie Denny Hamlin moved up to second after a strong NHIS performance. A pair of Jeffs, Gordon and Burton, round out the top five. The biggest hits came for Johnson and Kyle Busch, whose problems at NHIS dropped them to ninth and 10th, respectively. It’s still early, but those teams must be careful not to dig a deep hole this soon. Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne fill the sixth through eighth positions.
What to Expect
Expect 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. Fuel mileage has often been make or break for potential Dover winners. Although Dover’s concrete surface is not as temperature sensitive as many tracks, tires can also play a role in winning.
Starting up front at Dover is important. Just over 80% of Dover winners have started in the top 10.
Who to Watch
Points leader Johnson won last fall’s Dover race, and he followed that up in June with what may well have been his team’s most outstanding performance of the year. After spinning on his qualifying lap, Johnson was forced to start at the rear of the field, and, adding insult to injury, share a pit stall for much of the race. Johnson rallied to finish sixth. Given Team 48’s penchant for shining in adversity and three previous Dover wins, look for Johnson in victory lane on Sunday. Teammate Busch is also outstanding at Dover, and just as hungry as Johnson to get back to the top of the Chase.
Kenseth won the spring race, passing his teammate Jamie McMurray, who had an outstanding late run in June, and is looking for his own turn to shine. With the roll he’s on, Harvick is a threat every week, and Tony Stewart showed at NHIS that he’s far from done in 2006 despite missing the Chase at the last minute.
Did You Know?
- That Dover’s oldest Cup winner, Harry Gant, was more than twice the age of the track’s youngest winner, Gordon? Gant was 52 and Gordon 24 at the time of their record victories.
- That three active drivers can boast a season sweep at the Monster Mile? Stewart swept in 2000, Johnson in 2002 and Newman in 2003. Johnson’s sweep has the added distinction of coming in his rookie year.
- That no driver ranked lower than 14th in driver points has gone to victory lane in 2006?
You Don’t Say
“Dover can be very tough. It’s fast. If something happens in front of you, it’s difficult to avoid.” – Kasey Kahne on Dover
“You can expect plenty of excitement this weekend. The Monster Mile typically lives up to its billing and while there are 10 teams and drivers out there trying not to make a mistake, we’re going to be aggressive and work on a top-10 or better finish.” – Sterling Marlin on DIS
“That was one of the hardest days of my life – having to watch my car go around the racetrack without me in it.” – Tony Stewart, whose injured shoulder forced him to turn his car over to a relief driver at Dover in June