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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Dover

This weekend, Brian Vickers will become the youngest driver ever to reach 200 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in six full seasons of competition.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Week 2: The Top 12 Face “The Monster Mile” At Dover

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just like the brake calibers on the cars this Sunday will be “red hot,” so will the competition as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ascends on Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400, the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

After New Hampshire, 10 of the top 12 Chase drivers switched positions in the standings. Two did not, Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) in eighth and the man at the top of the Chase standings, Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) who will make his 750th series start this weekend.

Martin has come out of the gate strong, holding off Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Polaroid Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) to capture his first win in 26 attempts at New Hampshire last week, his fifth victory of the season and the 40th of his career. He also held his lead in the standings to 35 points ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet).

Expect the unexpected this Sunday.

Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, 18-to-20-degree, variable-banked track that is aptly named “The Monster Mile”.

Seven of the top 12 Chase contenders have won at Dover; six of the seven have multiple wins. Martin, Johnson and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) are tied with the most among the top 12 contenders with four victories there.

Both Gordon and Martin also are tied for the most poles amongst Chase contenders with four. Martin also leads the series with the most top fives (21) and the most top 10s (28) at Dover.

Montoya Climbing The Chase Standings In A Hurry

Mark Martin had a rear-view mirror full of Juan Pablo Montoya last Sunday as the two battled for the win in the closing laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Montoya started the weekend off fast and never seemed to fall off pace, putting his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates-owned Chevrolet on the pole, his second of the season (the sprint race at Talladega was the other). He then went on to lead the most laps of the race (105) and nearly won, establishing himself and his crew as a top contending team for the championship. Montoya’s early success has parlayed into him moving up the most spots (seven) in the standings after the first week of the Chase.

Montoya faces an uphill battle this week. Dover is a track he typically does not excel at, posting one top-10 finish out of five starts, but that isn’t slowing the No. 42 team down.

“We have to bring our A game,” Montoya said. “No holding back nothing, it’s time to go. You know, I have been very impressed with (crew chief) Brian Pattie and everybody on the team. With the kind of cars they have given me, we can’t just go out there and just ride. We are doing the best we can and I am trying to drive the car as hard as I can. I don’t want to leave anything on the table.”

Loop Data Says : Hamlin, Edwards On Opposite Ends Of The Success Spectrum

This Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway could prove to be a turning point in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for two drivers on opposite ends of the series standings: Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford).

Hamlin, the leading points earner during the 10-event Race to the Chase, capitalized on the momentum with a runner-up finish at New Hampshire last Sunday. He now sits third in points, 35 behind leader Mark Martin.

But this weekend, the series heads to Dover, a track that has been less than kind to Hamlin in his young career.

In fact, Dover ranks at the very bottom of the list in terms of Driver Rating for Hamlin. And maybe even more problematic: Of the final nine tracks, three rank as Hamlin’s worst in Driver Rating (Dover at 74.6; Kansas at 74.8; and Lowe’s Motor Speedway at 80.4).

With four consecutive Dover finishes outside the top 35 going into Sunday’s race (including a last-place finish in June of 2008), Hamlin’s numbers are not pretty. In his seven Dover races, he has an Average Running Position of 22.1, 31 Fastest Laps Run, 61 Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 45.9%.

On the other end of the spectrum lies Carl Edwards, who dropped to 11th in the points after a 17th-place finish at New Hampshire. He now trails Martin by 113 points.

But as bad as Hamlin is at Dover, Edwards is strong. With a Driver Rating of 106.6, Dover ranks as Edwards’ third-best track in the series behind Homestead (117.2) and Michigan (112.5).

His numbers rank among the best in the series at Dover. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 106.6 (fourth-best), Average Running Position of 9.3 (fourth), 287 Fastest Laps Run (fourth) and a 2,733 Laps in the 15 (75.8%), which is sixth-most.

Though Edwards has little momentum to speak of lately, he does have a string of strong Dover finishes.

The last time Edwards eclipsed the 100 points Driver Rating barrier was July 4 at Daytona, a span of nine races.

On the other hand, Edwards hasn’t gone lower than 100.0 in Driver Rating at Dover since June 2006. Since then, a span of six races, Edwards has averaged a rating 121.8.
 
Denny Hamlin – Worst Tracks
Driver Rating
                                   Driver
Track                          Rating
Dover                            74.6
Kansas                         74.8
Lowe’s Motor Speedway 80.4
Las Vegas                     81.7
Daytona                         83.2

Carl Edwards – Best Tracks
Driver Rating
                              Driver                     
Track                     Rating
Homestead              117.2
Michigan                  112.5
Dover                       106.6
Atlanta                     105.0
Auto Club Speedway 105.0

On The Rebound: Kahne, Edwards and Gordon Need Good Finishes At Dover

Three of the top 12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders look to rebound this week after disappointing performances at New Hampshire.

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge), Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon all lost positions in the standings after the first week of the Chase.

Kahne started with a blown engine at New Hampshire that relegated him to a 38th-place finish, dropping him seven positions from fifth to 12th.

This week at Dover,” Kahne will need to do well at a track where numbers aren’t in his favor. In 11 starts, he has two top 10s and five DNFs (did not finish).

“I think Dover is great, Kahne said. “I used to like it a little more when the tire would fall off and you could move all over the race track. It doesn’t seem like we run quite as high these days. But definitely a good track, a tough track, and a fairly long race. So it’s a little bit demanding and ‘The Monster Mile’ is difficult so anything can happen there.”

Edwards entered the Chase seeded ninth, but finished 17th at New Hampshire, dropping him two spots in the standings to ninth.

Edwards has made 10 starts at Dover with one win (2007), five top fives and seven top 10s. Last season he finished third at Dover and earlier this year in the spring he finished seventh.

Gordon, the four-time series champion, did not start the Chase like his two Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Martin and Johnson, who sit one and two in the points, respectively. He finished 15th at New Hampshire, falling four spots in the standings to 10th from sixth.

But Gordon is one of the most prolific and experienced drivers heading to Dover this weekend. Among active drivers, he’s tied with Johnson and Martin for the most wins there (four), and also has 14 top fives, 20 top 10s, and four poles in 33 starts.

Last season he sat on the pole for Dover’s Chase event and posted a seventh-place finish.

Gordon leads all drivers in laps led at Dover, a total of 2,231.

Dover International Speedway: Known For Shaking Up The Standings

The 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup continues to gain momentum and this week’s stop at Dover, Delaware promises more of the same.

The pressure and the drama of the 2009 Chase has not disappointed, and more is sure to come this Sunday when the green flag drops for the AAA 400.

Dover is known for close-quarter racing and impressive side-by-side beating and banging, but its events also tend to shake up the points standings. The standings leader has changed after three of the track’s last four Chase races.

2004 — In the Chase’s first year, eventual series champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) led off with a New Hampshire win. But he finished fifth at Dover; while the then-third-place Jeff Gordon finished third, taking the points lead.

Busch rallied back and won the championship in 2004, beating series runner-up Jimmie Johnson by eight points after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2005 — Points leader and eventual champion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Burger King Chevrolet) headed to Dover after finishing second at New Hampshire, but fell two laps down during the event, finishing 18th. He dropped to fifth in standings, while the winner of the event, Jimmie Johnson, shot to the top of the standings from his fifth-place spot. But in the end, Stewart came back to capture his second series championship.

2006Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) won the opening Chase race at New Hampshire and also assumed the points lead by 35 points. Harvick’s success was short-lived, though, when his engine blew at Dover, knocking him out of the top spot to fourth.

His Richard Childress Racing teammate, Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), went on to win the race and jump four spots from fifth to the standings lead. Neither driver went on to win the championship, but rather it was Jimmie Johnson, who won the first of his three consecutive titles.

2007 — Then-second-year driver Clint Bowyer (No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet), won his first series race at New Hampshire last season, and Johnson held on to the points lead.

But when Johnson got to Dover, he finished two laps down in 14th, dropping him four spots in the Chase standings. Jeff Gordon finished 11th and took the top spot in the points.

2008 — Last year marks the one race among Dover’s last four Chase events that the standings leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was not unseated afterward.

Edwards started the ‘08 Chase with the points lead, finishing third at both New Hampshire and Dover and remaining out front.

Biffle And The No. 16 Team Could Surprise At Dover

If there is such a thing as a “dark horse” this weekend at Dover International Speedway, it has to be Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford).

Starting the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seeded 12th, 40 points behind Mark Martin heading into New Hampshire, Biffle posted a ninth-place finish, moving himself up three spots in the Chase standings to ninth.

Thus far, Biffle has amassed eight top fives and 13 top 10s this season.

Last season Biffle swept the first two races of the Chase (New Hampshire and Dover). His victory at Dover gave Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing their fifth consecutive win at the fall event. Roush ranks second on the all-time wins list at Dover with eight, two behind Rick Hendrick with 10.

Biffle usually runs well at Dover; he has two wins, six top fives, nine top 10s and one pole in 14 starts.

The NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data for Dover shows that Biffle could use Dover as a springboard this weekend. He is ranked No. 1 in three important loop categories: Driver Rating (117.0), Average Running Position (6.588) and Laps In The Top 15 percentage (93.0%).

Biffle’s consistency at Dover could pay off. In his last four starts at Dover, he has finished in the top three. This week’s event also will be Biffle’s 250th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.

“I will be disappointed if we are not in contention for the win this weekend at Dover,” he said. “We need a good finish there to keep Mark Martin in our sights.”

Johnson Seeks Dover Sweep, Another Perfect Driver Rating

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have the No. 48 team second in the standings after a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire.

But unlike leader Mark Martin, who hasn’t won at Dover since 2004, Johnson dominated the track’s 2009 spring race, becoming one of only three drivers this season to score a perfect Driver Rating.

Johnson has 15 starts at Dover with four wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s and one pole.

In the spring event at Dover this year, Johnson started eighth but didn’t take long moving to the front, leading 298 of 400 laps.

“I’m really excited about Dover,” Johnson said. “We have a new tire this time around, and I was able to participate in the tire test for that. I think it will change the handling on the Cup car some, but I think all in all, the track has been so good to me over the years, we should be in great shape. I hope to have a similar performance to the spring race.”

NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data for the AAA 400 has Johnson ranked third in Driver Rating (108.2); sixth in Average Running Position (10.536) and fourth in Laps In The Top 15 (77.9%).

NSCS Etc.

Goodyear Tire Test At Daytona This Week

On Tuesday, Sept. 22 and Wednesday, Sept. 23, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will participate in a Goodyear Tire Test at Daytona International Speedway.

Several teams and drivers are scheduled: Roush Fenway Racing’s David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota), JTG Daugherty Racing’s Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox, Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer as well as a to-be-named driver from Penske Racing.

The track is closed to media during on-track testing, but select drivers will be available for interviews following the first day of testing on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Infield Media Center.
  
Brian Vickers Youngest Driver Ever To 200 Starts In NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

This weekend, Brian Vickers will become the youngest driver ever to reach 200 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in six full seasons of competition.

Of the 200 starts, Vickers has only driven for two teams, Hendrick Motorsports, for which he made 113 starts, and Team Red Bull with 86 starts.

“Wow,” Vickers said. “Makes me feel old! It’s pretty cool when you think about it. It’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad to have been involved in the sport, at this level, for that long. It’s only going to get better as it goes on and as I progress in my career.”

Vickers currently is eighth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with one win, four top fives, 13 top 10s and six poles.

“2009 has been a great overall highlight with all that’s gone on with this team over the years and the building we have done,” he said. “The win. The Chase. It’s been fantastic. My first career win was great but there is something really gratifying about building a program from the ground up and seeing it succeed.”
 
Up Next: Kansas Speedway

Kansas Speedway hosts the third race in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods — next Sunday, Oct. 4 (2 p.m. start on ABC).

Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner and polesitter.

Last October’s victory at Kansas was Johnson’s first time winning at the 1.5-mile track. It also was car owner Rick Hendrick’s series leading third win there.

Chase participant Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with two wins, five top fives and six top 10s at Kansas.

Fast Facts

The Race: AAA 400

The Place: Dover International Speedway (1-mile banked concrete)

The Date: Sunday, Sept. 27

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400 laps/400miles

TV: ABC, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (Local: WDSD/94.7 FM)

2008 Winner: Greg Biffle

2008 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 12:30-1:15 p.m.; Final Practice, 1:50-2:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                      Points
 1 Mark Martin               5,230
 2 Jimmie Johnson         5,195
 3 Denny Hamlin            5,195
 4 Juan Pablo Montoya   5,175
 5 Kurt Busch                5,165
 6 Tony Stewart             5,156
 7 Ryan Newman           5,151
 8 Brian Vickers             5,140
 9 Greg Biffle                 5,138
10 Jeff Gordon               5,128
11 Carl Edwards            5,117
12 Kasey Kahne            5,069


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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