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Qualifying the Chasers: Dover

October 01, 2011, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

Points leader Stewart has work cut out after 28th; Gordon too after 34th

Kurt Busch (Qualified second) -- Coming off of a rough 22nd-place at New Hampshire, Dover comes at a horrible time for Busch. Of the 12 Chase drivers, Busch has the 11th best average finish at 18.7 with no victories, five top-fives and seven top-10s in 22 starts. But there is a silver lining -- three of those top-fives have come in his past five starts at the Monster Mile. In fact, his worst finish in the past five races is a respectable 19th in 2010. Busch has held the lead in three of the past four races, so despite sub-par stats, it looks like Busch is starting to find himself at Dover.

Carl Edwards (Qualified fourth) -- Edwards is a finishing machine at the Monster Mile. His average finish of 7.6 is tops among active drivers at Dover thanks to a victory, six top-fives and 10 top-10s in 14 starts. Since the Chase race in 2006, Edwards has finished 11th or better and in third or better five times. Edwards has led laps in all but two of those races and has finished on the lead lap in all of them. Edwards has hit a little skid recently though, with four finishes of seventh through 11th in five starts. The No. 99 hasn't dominated as much as it has in years past -- but Edwards is still better than most.

Kyle Busch (Qualified fifth) --Busch is quickly becoming one of the favorites twice a year at Dover. While his average finish is, well, average at 13.8, he's above average with two victories, seven top-fives and eight top-10s in 13 starts. The scary thing for Busch is when he has a bad day ... it's really bad. His five finishes outside the top 10 have two DNFs and four outside 20th. But, Busch leads laps in bunches at the Monster Mile, and he's looking for his fourth consecutive finish of sixth or better at the 1-mile track.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified sixth) -- There is no one better recently at Dover than Johnson. In the past six races, no one has scored more points than the No. 48 thanks to three victories, a fifth, a ninth and a 16th. Johnson's ability to tame the Monster Mile is impressive. In his past five starts, he's led at least 191 laps -- that's almost unheard of. In that stretch, he started no worse than eighth with three poles. In all, Johnson has six victories, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and five poles in 18 starts. How good is Johnson? In 16 of his 18 races, he's finished 16th or better. The two he didn't -- crashes in 2003 and 2004. Johnson is one of two drivers (Edwards) with average finishes inside the top 10.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 11th) -- Hamlin is in trouble, no question, and coming to Dover, one of his worst tracks doesn't help. How bad is Hamlin at Dover? Well, of the 23 tracks on the Cup circuit, the Monster Mile ranks behind only Daytona as Hamlin's worst track with an average finish of 20.9. Hamlin has as many 36th or worse finishes as he does top-10s at Dover and has held the lead just once in 11 starts. But even though Hamlin's Chase started out in disaster, it doesn't mean Dover will add to the No. 11's woes. In his past three starts at Dover, Hamlin has finished fourth, ninth and 16th. Maybe his days of being mashed by the monster are over.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 15th) -- When it comes to Chase tracks, Dover isn't too bad for the Chase rookie. Keselowski's average finish of 17.7 is respectable with finishes of 18th, 22nd and 13th. While he doesn't have a top-10 at the Monster Mile, he does finish races and in the spring, he posted his first lead-lap finish on the 1-mile track.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified 18th) -- Kenseth is the quiet assassin at the Monster Mile. You don't hear much about the driver of the No. 17 ... but you should. Only Johnson has scored more points than Kenseth in the past seven races. In that stretch, take out an 18th in the Chase race last year and Kenseth has finished no worse than fourth. Kenseth is coming off a victory in the spring, which is scary for the rest of the field because Kenseth has been known to dominate in the fall. In three of the past five fall Dover races, Kenseth has led at least 136 laps.

Ryan Newman (Qualified 20th) -- Newman is one of three active drivers with three or more victories at Dover. Unfortunately for Newman, those victories came in George W. Bush's first administration. Since Newman's last win in 2004, he has just two top-fives and three top-10s. But it's not all doom and gloom. Newman still has some of the best numbers at the Monster Mile. He's third with an average finish of 10.9, has just one DNF and he leads laps. He's started on the pole four times and has led a total of 842 laps -- but recently the lead has been tougher to come by. In his past eight Dover starts, he's held the point just twice.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 21st) -- Success has been in small supply for Earnhardt at the Monster Mile. In 23 starts, Earnhardt has just one victory, four top-fives and seven top-10s. The unfortunate thing for Earnhardt are his recent performances. Since 2005, he has finished inside the top five just once -- a third-place effort in 2007 with DEI. That means 12 races of 10th or worse ... an average finish of 20.3. That '07 Chase race is the only time in seven Chase races Earnhardt has finished on the lead lap. A silver lining -- Earnhardt led a lap in the spring and tied for his best finish in the No. 88 at Dover with a 12th-place run.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 22nd) -- Of the current tracks on the Cup Series schedule, Dover is Harvick's fourth worst. In 21 starts, Harvick has no victories, two top-fives, eight top-10s and a average finish of 17.0 Harvick finishes races at the Monster Mile, with just one DNF ... he just doesn't finish all that well. Harvick has just 10 lead lap finishes and has 13 finishes of 15th or worse. However, lately things have been a little better for Happy. The past three Chase races at Dover have seen Harvick finish sixth, 12th and 15th and he came home 10th this spring. A glaring omission on the resume -- laps led. In 21 starts, Harvick has held the lead twice, once for just one lap.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 28th) -- Stewart is looking to become the first driver to ever win the first three races in the Chase. If he is going to do that, he will have to do something he hasn't done since 2000. Stewart was one of the best at Dover early in his career, but lately the two-time Cup champ has fizzled a little. Since 2005, Stewart has just four top-10s and nearly as many DNFs (three). After posting a second and two ninths in his first three races with Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart has stumbled with back-to-back finishes outside the top 20.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 34th) -- Without question, Gordon is one of the best at Dover. His four wins are second-most among active drivers and his 14 top-fives and 21 top-10s are among the leaders at Dover. But it has been a while since Gordon has been to Victory Lane at the Monster Mile. When Gordon last won at Dover, guys like Craven, Jarrett, Rudd and Wallace were in the field. But that's not to say Gordon won't return soon. In his past eight starts, he's finished 11th or better in six of them. And in Chase races, Gordon has been one of the best. In seven Chase starts at Dover, Gordon has an average finish of 11.1 with two thirds, a sixth, a seventh, two 11ths and a 37th after a crash in 2005.

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