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Qualifying the Chasers: Dover

September 29, 2012, Nick Margiasso, NASCAR.com



Qualifying the Chasers: Dover

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 11th): There are locks and then there is Jimmie Johnson at Dover. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports driver has seven career wins at the Monster Mile, including four in his last seven starts. WHAT?!?! I know. Those seven all-time wins are tied with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for the most ever at the track. He has also led the most laps at Dover in nine of his races there, also a record, including the lap leader there in the track's last seven races. So, yeah, he'll be the favorite.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 10th): Well, he won the first one and hovered around the top five again at Loudon, keeping him near the top of the rankings. One thing is clear with Keselowski -- that whole consistency thing, yeah, it looks to be behind him. He has now finished in the top 10 in 11 of his past 12 races, and the top five in a quintet of the last eight races out. Bad-Fast Brad has never particularly looked great at the Monster Mile (Avg. Fin. 17th), so this will be a real test to his newfound cool and consistent nature.

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Denny Hamlin (Qualified 1st): There is calling your shot and then there is what Denny Hamlin did at Loudon. Hamlin backed up his stance atop the Chase-opening standings by dropping out of first with his Chicagoland performance, then getting so ticked off that within hours of it he got on Twitter and told everyone that he was going to win next week at New Hampshire. And then he did it. Someone's wearing the Big Boy Pants around here, huh? However, Hamlin may need to wait to call his next shot, since he's been dreadful at Dover lately. He's finished 16th or worse in eight of the last 10 races, including the last three. That includes finishing 22nd or worse in five of the last 10. Uh oh.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 24th): Smoke has been a poor man's Five-Time so far in the Chase. How's that for a sentence? Just as Jimmie has looked about as good as a driver can without grabbing a win, Tony has turned his late-season swoon around and has posted a sixth and a seventh in the Chase races. He seems to be chiseling toward that victory, but the Monster Mile may spook his Chase chances this weekend. After posting two wins in his first four career races at the track and top-10s in 11 of his first 12 races, Stewart has reached inside that top-10 list just thrice in 15 races 2005. He also in the 20s for his last four trips to Dover. Uh oh, again.

Kasey Kahne (Qualified 9th: It still seems like Kasey is sitting there in the weeds ...waiting ... and waiting. He keeps bringing fast cars to the track, keeps looking good and keeping it together out there and keeps ... waiting for that win. One win would make a world of difference for Kahne in the standings he's been climbing seemingly all season. Dover could be the time, considering he has posted his best-ever consecutive performances at the track in his last two races there (4th and 9th). Then again, he had three finishes of 20th-36th before that and has posted four finishes in the 30s and even a 42nd there. As always, Kasey remains a wild card.

Clint Bowyer (Qualified 2nd): Here's a guy that has received a lot less attention than Mr. Kahne, and is right there tied with him in points in this late stage of the season. Honestly, the Michael Waltrip Racing pack leader has been on even more of a tear lately, finishing in the top 10 in seven of his past eight, including a win in Richmond. He's stayed within striking distance since the Chase started, and is poised to keep on keepin' on at Dover, where he's been knocking on the door. He's finished sixth, eighth and fifth his last trio of treks out there, and is one of four Chase drivers with better finishes at Dover in the Chase than in the regular season. One more just may move him up yet another peg.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 25th): It's starting to get away a bit, there, Junior. To pull the leaders back within his sights, Dale will have to, I don't know, throw a coin into Whisky River and make a wish. He'll have to have a strong finish at Dover, something he hasn't been really good at doing lately. Earnhardt was fourth at the track in June -- his first top-10 in nine races there and just his third top-10 the last 15 tries at Dover. It's early enough in the Chase, but it's time for him to start improving on stats like that.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 13th): Seriously, has a guy ever been so just plain average and somehow stay in the hunt for the title for 28 races? No. It's gotta be Baby Otis Magic.

Greg Biffle (Qualified 6th): An interesting number crunch on ol' Greg -- he's one of the four Chase drivers to finish better in the Chase at Dover than in the "regular season" (11.4 to 12.2, respectively). Based on history, Dover might be a place where Biffle could gain ground. He has won twice at the Monster Mile, and at one point from 2006-2010 had eight-straight top-10s there. He'll need something to turn around a streak where he's finished outside the top 10 in four of his last five races this season.

Martin Truex Jr. (Qualified 3rd): It's going to be time here soon to break that winless streak, Marty. If Truex Jr. wants to stay seriously in this thing, he'll have to conquer a Dover track that is, well, not his favorite Monster. He finished seventh there in June, but before that? Six finishes outside the top 10 in seven races, including five of those 20th or higher. Yuck. We're gonna need some N-n-n-NAPA know-how here, people.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified 12th): Just when you thought he was out, the stats pull him back in! It seems like 500 years ago that Kenseth won at Daytona at this point, but after a rough stretch run and two poor Chase finishes, Matt finds himself at (finally) a favorable track. Kenseth has more top-five finishes (13) and more top-10 finishes (18) at Dover than any other track in his career. Let's do this, Matt.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 7th): You know how bad his Chase start at Chicagoland was? The next week at Loudon, he won the pole, finished third with a great ride all weekend and found himself, yup, still last in the Chase points. He has led the most all-time laps at Dover, but not many in a long, long while. With Mustachegate, Ninja Turtles on his car coming up and a Japanimation commercial, things are going to get weirder for Mr. Gordon before they get better.

Story includes statistics from © Racing Resources and Services, Statistics by © Racing Recall®

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.