News & Media


Happy Hour: Dover has earned its share of respect

June 01, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

DOVER, Del. -- Drivers know the track is trickier than it would appear and mistakes are magnified

Dover International Speedway's "Monster Mile" nickname is more than a cute marketing gimmick. Just ask Carl Edwards.

Edwards thought he had Dover all figured out when he showed up here for the first time to run a Truck race in 2003.

"It feels like you are jumping into the corner and when it lands, it depends how the crew chief has it set up."

--CARL EDWARDS

"I came with a ton of confidence," Edwards said Friday during preparations for Sunday's FedEx 400. "I went out there and ran the first 20 laps in practice and we were just awesome. We were the fastest thing here and I thought, 'Man, I've got this place, this isn't so bad.'

"Then I promptly ran that truck into the front straightaway wall so hard that I thought I broke my ribs. I hit it a ton."

If you don't respect the Monster, it'll jump up and bite you. And Edwards learned a hard lesson that day.

In fact, Edwards learned it so well that he has 10 top-10 finishes in the past 11 trips to Dover -- including a win in 2007 -- and the one run outside of the top-10 was when he finished 11th in 2009.

During Friday's final practice session, Edwards wasn't as concerned with speed as he was with finding a comfortable setup. His best lap -- 153.479 mph -- was only 22nd quickest of the 45 cars which participated in the 90-minute, caution-free Happy Hour.

The 46th car on the entry list -- Mike Skinner's No. 52 Toyota -- was already loaded onto the hauler after suffering heavy damage in an accident earlier in the day.

Aric Almirola, coming off a pole-winning effort at Charlotte, carried that momentum forward by topping the leaderboard with a best lap of 157.205 mph. He was followed by three cars from Hendrick Motorsports: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

So what makes Dover so monstrous? The huge transitions between the straightaways and the corners, for one. The bumpiness of the concrete. The amount of time drivers spend battling the centripetal forces in the corners. And perhaps most of all, the unyielding concrete wall on the inside of the track that usually turns a spin into a crash.

"It feels like you are jumping into the corner and when it lands, it depends how the crew chief has it set up," Edwards said. "But you don't want it to land and do the death wiggle. It is scary.

"You got to get the car set up right for long runs because I can only do that for so many laps when the car is loose. It is really, really difficult."

FedEx 400

Practice 1
Pos.DriverSpeed
2.Denny Hamlin158.926
3.Martin Truex Jr.158.527
4.Kyle Busch158.444
5.Greg Biffle158.367
Pos.DriverSpeed
2.Jeff Gordon156.958
3.Dale Earnhardt Jr.155.966
4.Jimmie Johnson155.952
5.Scott Speed154.772

A lap at Dover may not be as intimidating as say, running four-wide at close to 200 mph at Talladega, but Matt Kenseth said it's a track that demands your attention.

Kenseth has won here twice, including a victory last spring. He's had some dominant runs at Dover, but will be the first one to admit that he doesn't have the Monster on a leash.

"It is one of those tracks that is not only challenging to race other cars and figure out how to pass them but it always challenges you every single lap, even when you are by yourself," Kenseth said. "It is one of those tracks you can't let your guard down.

"You really have to focus and concentrate and pay attention to be able to get fast laps around here all the time. It is one of the more challenging tracks I feel like and that is what makes it so fun."

Martin Truex Jr.'s lone Cup victory came here in 2007. Since then, Dover's had the upper hand, as Truex has just two top-10s in nine starts.

To tame the Monster, you have to be precise. And you have to do it consistently, lap after lap. According to Truex, that's easier said than done, because you can't afford to put a wheel wrong on corner entry.

"The biggest challenge here is just the transition from the straightaway to the corner, where the car really takes a hard set in landing into the banking," Truex said. "If you can keep the car from being too loose there, but keep it turning good the rest of the corner, that's really the key.

"It's very difficult to do that. If you're off an inch in your entry, you're off six inches in the middle of the corner and you're off two feet on the exit. You're constantly trying to stay ahead of the car, which is very difficult here because it's so fast and things are happening so fast."

That's hard enough to do when you're running by yourself. So imagine compounding the difficulty involved in navigating Dover by putting 42 other cars in the way.

When it comes to how he'll finish Sunday, Edwards won't offer many guarantees. But he knows one thing for certain: The Monster Mile will live up to its nickname.

"This place will chew up cars and spit them out," Edwards said. "You have to be careful during the race not to make mistakes. If we can do all that and our car runs how I think it will run, then we will have a good shot at it."