Chase implications make Dover crucial, beloved
May 30, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
There are some tracks, like Daytona or Talladega, where drivers need a bit of good fortune to make it to the checkered flag to battle for a win. Dover International Speedway, the site of Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks (1 p.m. ET, FOX), is a mile-long concrete oval that tests drivers -- especially with the cool temperatures the track has seen so far this weekend -- but rewards those who have learned to wrangle the Monster Mile.
"I don't feel like (Dover) is a crap shoot or wild card. It is a race track that you can make a difference at," Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, said. "As a driver and a team, we can definitely make up for something here. If you have a bad race at Talladega, this race can be that much more important to get that win and make sure you get to the next round."
Especially under the new win-and-you're-in Chase format, tracks where winning is more dependent on performance than missing "The Big One" are valuable. Dover's 1-mile concrete surface combines speed with tight racing, and "is kind of like Bristol, but twice as big and twice as fast," according to Matt Kenseth.
It can be a forgiving track, too. Tony Stewart started last year's June race 22nd, and drove his way through the field to win the race. He won from even farther back in 2000, leading at the checkered flag from a starting position of 27th. Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Carl Edwards, all winners at the track, are among the many drivers who look forward to the two races it hosts each season.
"It's just one of those tracks that's a challenge to get around by yourself, especially to get around fast by yourself," Kenseth said. "It's just kind of tricky and has a lot of character… it's really unique and there's not really anything like it on the circuit."
In 30 starts at the track, Kenseth has 19 top-10 finishes -- just over 63 percent -- and two wins.
Johnson has a similar record at the track: Over 70 percent of 24 starts at Dover have resulted in top-10 finishes, eight of which -- exactly one third -- ended in Victory Lane. Whether the love of the track begets the results or vice versa, the six-time champion also names the Delaware track as one of his favorites.
“Really, at the end of the day, there is a feel, a sensation I look for to get around this racetrack," Johnson said. "We all have a feel and sensation we look for; it’s just if it yields the speed and fits the track. Everything has worked well for me, for Chad, for the team, our equipment; it’s just been a very strong track for us.
"Regardless of change, there are just some tracks that work well for you and you are able to still find that feeling you are looking for regardless of circumstances.”
Kyle Busch, who was fastest in the first practice, noted that Dover's difficulty makes racing at the track more fun, if challenging. The track was repaved to a concrete surface in 1995.
"It's definitely a fast race track," Busch said. "It's a fun race track, too. It makes it interesting when you get to traffic, when you have to pass guys, when you're kind of falling down into the hole and jumping back out of the hole to the straightaways. It's a good place to race."
And an important one. With the circuit returning to Dover as the third race of the Chase, the first visit to the track is just as important as a learning opportunity.
"Dover is a unique race track, and what you find here that works may not work anywhere else, but when you come back (here) it will probably work," Logano said. "If you find a setup here, it usually lasts a while and you can fine tune that -- or at least the direction of where you are thinking for what makes a car go fast here -- and fine tune that when you come back.
"Knowing that it is in the Chase, it is important to figure something out for the Chase race if we want to win the championship. But at the same time, we don't do anything differently than we would every week."