News & Media


Fantasy Preview: Johnson, Edwards have rhythm at Dover

May 11, 2011, Dan Beaver, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

It is fitting that Darlington Raceway and Dover International Speedway are back-to-back on the NASCAR schedule, because if there is something difficult to be done, it might as well be done all at once. These are two of the toughest tracks drivers will face all year and now that Bristol has lowered its overall banking, Dover probably has more in common with the old Darlington, when it was incredibly hard on tires, than it does with the concrete surface of Bristol.

Dover hasn't changed. It is a rhythm track and in that sense still has something in common with Bristol and Martinsville, but the concrete surface is rough on tires. That puts a premium on tire management throughout a run and favors calculating drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton.

Streaks are hard to come by in modern NASCAR, which makes it notable that last year, five drivers swept the top 10. The most productive of these overall was Burton with back-to-back runner-up results, but Kyle Busch with a victory in the spring and a sixth in the fall was arguably the second best. These two drivers were joined by Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano in a display of egalitarianism among teams and experience. Furthermore, they were joined by four other drivers who failed to sweep the top 10, but had perfect records of top-15s, and who also spanned the gamut of experience from the veteran Jeff Gordon, who finished 11th in both events, to A.J. Allmendinger with a 14th in the spring and a 10th in the fall.

Roughed Up

It is also fitting that drivers visit a rough-surface track for two weeks in a row, because several of them were certainly roughed up last week. NASCAR's "boys, have at it" policy is creating some interesting rivalries that threaten to boil over at any moment. Last week's Showtime Southern 500 began with all eyes on Ryan Newman and Juan Montoya to see if their feud would spill over from Richmond International Raceway. In the closing laps, however, a renewed rivalry between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick stole center stage.

While Newman and Montoya may be patiently waiting for their chance to get even with one another, Busch and Harvick are not quite as persevering and the bad blood could boil over in back-to-back weeks despite both drivers being placed on probation for the pit-road incident at Darlington. That not only makes them questionable picks for your fantasy lineup, but also creates uncertainty for anyone running behind them on a track that has been known to feature track-blocking accidents in the past. Unfortunately, until the race is under way, you will not know whether your fantasy drivers are safely in front of the pair of potential combatants, or biting their nails behind them.

The Favorites

Jimmie Johnson has been one of the most successful drivers at Dover from the moment he first put a wheel on this track. He swept Victory Lane in his rookie season of 2002, added another victory in '05, and has won three of the past four events there -- which makes his 16th-place finish in this race last year stand out like a sore thumb. That poor effort can be explained away with a pit-road penalty. Under green-flag conditions with less than 40 laps remaining, Johnson was caught speeding exiting the pits and forced to make a pass-through penalty. Johnson is not likely to make the same mistake twice, so he is easily this week's favorite.

Edwards overcame one of his most challenging tracks last week at Darlington, so this week should be a cakewalk. In terms of average finishes, Darlington was mid-range with a result of about 14th in seven previous attempts, which ranked it 12th among 22 active tracks. But Dover is one of his three best courses, with an average finish of better than eighth in 13 tries. Only Michigan and the progressively banked version of Homestead-Miami have been kinder to Cousin Carl. Whether you base your decision on recent momentum (Edwards has seven results of sixth or better in his past eight attempts this year) or his Dover record (where he has eight top-10s and a worst result of 11th in his past nine races), he is almost guaranteed to earn a top-five.

Like Johnson, Matt Kenseth has a single bad result in the past three years that needs to be explained. He entered this past fall's race at Dover with a five-race streak of top-fives and a victory as recently as the spring of 2006. That put him on a lot of fantasy rosters despite a mediocre qualification effort that had him rolling off the grid mid-pack in 14th. He was comfortably running in the top-10 just prior to the mid-point of the race when he locked up his tires trying to pit. He missed pit road, was forced to take another lap, and blew one of his tires in the process. Ironically, it was the debris from that damage that brought out the caution that left him stranded off the lead lap for the remainder of the day. Even with a crash-damaged car, he managed to stay in contention for the free pass until 10 laps remained, but he never got a chance to use it as the final 105 laps went green.

Dover


Our experts pick the studs and duds for this week.

Dark Horses

Given the way his season has been going in 2011, it is impossible to make Burton a favorite, but he cannot be overlooked at Dover, either. One thing is almost certain: wherever he finishes this week is going to be a strong indicator of how he will run in the fall. In the past three years, he has been the most consistent driver in the field with a pair of seconds last year, back-to-back 16th-place finishes in 2009, and an eighth- and ninth-place pairing in '08. He swept the top 15 in 2007, swept the top five in '06, and finished 11th and 12th in the two events of '05. It is not only his consistency that recommends him, though. Last year's runner-up results are not his only highlights because he won the fall 2006 race, which suggests he knows how to find the handle on this rhythm course.

Allmendinger has been another consistently strong driver at Dover since joining Richard Petty Motorsports. He's completed all but one lap in the past three races, earned two top-10s and swept the top 15. His past six races of this season have been slightly less impressive, but just as consistent with a streak of top-20s that includes one top-10 and four top-15s. He's not likely to break the fantasy cap bank this week, and that makes him a very attractive dark horse. This past fall, Allmendinger actually dominated and led part of the race until he had a flat tire that caused him to lose track position, or his recent record might be even better yet.

Underdogs

With four previous wins on this track, Gordon should be one of the favorites, but his season is running hot and cold, so there is no telling which team is going to show up for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks. Gordon has indicated that the team's weaknesses surround their intermediate program, so last week should have been one of his best chances to shine. He ran well enough in the early and middle stages of the race, but was shuffled outside of the top 10 in the final frenetic laps and fantasy owners simply don't want to run the risk of another poor restart costing points.

Fantasy Power Ranking

Dover (past three years)
Pos.DriverPA* Pos.DriverPA* Pos.DriverPA*
2.Kyle Busch6.43 17.Mark Martin16.37 32.Dave Blaney30.48
3.Martin Truex Jr.8.24 18.Kurt Busch16.92 33.Casey Mears31.12
4.Denny Hamlin8.51 19.Matt Kenseth17.97 34.A.J. Allmendinger31.64
5.Jamie McMurray10.35 20.David Reutimann18.70 35.Ken Schrader31.70
6.Kasey Kahne10.78 21.Brian Vickers18.78 36.David Gilliland32.56
7.Tony Stewart12.00 22.Joey Logano21.08 37.Robby Gordon33.70
8.Kevin Harvick13.24 23.David Ragan21.44 38.David Stremme35.72
9.Ryan Newman13.64 24.Clint Bowyer23.03 39.Tony Raines36.67
10.Brad Keselowski13.88 25.Juan Montoya23.35 40.Landon Cassill37.89
11.Jeff Burton14.32 26.Travis Kvapil23.61 41.Michael McDowell38.81
12.Jimmie Johnson14.71 27.Bobby Labonte25.73 42.Mike Bliss39.00
13.Greg Biffle14.74 28.Regan Smith26.59 43.Mike Skinner39.01
14.Carl Edwards14.82 29.Marcos Ambrose27.64 44.Joe Nemechek39.37
15.Dale Earnhardt Jr.15.53 30.Paul Menard30.00 45.Andy Lally45.00

Tony Stewart is another superstar best saved for a later date. He got off to a great start on this track with two victories, 11 results of seventh or better, and a worst finish of 11th in his first 12 attempts, but that all changed six years ago. His past 12 efforts reflect only one top-five and four top-10s that are countered by three accidents and one race in which he was forced to turn his car over for relief to Ricky Rudd because of an injury. One of his recent top-10s came in this race last year, but in the fall he was lackluster and ran outside the top 20 for most of the first 100 circuits until he was caught speeding and lost two laps with a penalty.