News & Media

Happy Hour: Drivers handle squeeze play in Dover garage

September 30, 2011, Mark Aumann,

DOVER, Del. -- Dover International Speedway is aptly nicknamed the Monster Mile. It takes a rare level of bravado to hold the throttle to the floor while keeping the car off the unyielding concrete walls that crowd the driver from both sides.

But turning laps at 150-plus miles per hour is a piece of cake compared to trying to negotiate one of the trickiest garage areas on the Sprint Cup circuit. Because Dover doubles as a harness racing facility, the Cup garages are confined to a crescent-shaped sliver of infield property between Turns 1 and 2.


Happy Hour speeds
2J. Gordon154.01723.374
3D. Stremme153.84023.401
4J. Montoya153.84023.401
5T. Kvapil153.34823.476

Adding to that is the placement of a horse racing steward's tower just to the right at the entrance to the garage, along with a permanent light standard to the left. Drivers trying to get back to the garage have to thread the narrow space between them, plus negotiate a blind S curve between a pair of NASCAR haulers.

When practice is under way, the path is clogged with crews and equipment, officials and fans. Watching Cup cars squeeze their way through Dover's garage area is like watching an egg pass through a snake.

"It's not the easiest garage in the world but we all try to work around it," Regan Smith said. "We know what it is. It's tough because they've got the [horse] track and it's tough for them to expand. I heard talk about it at one point or another, but it is what it is."

Cup drivers are experts at running doorhandle to doorhandle at places like Daytona and Talladega. But some of the closest calls can come when the man behind the wheel is just trying to get the car back to the garage.

"About every time we try to go out," David Reutimann said. "You've got cars going in, cars going out, and everybody's cool-down units. Sometimes you bang up the car worse getting in and out of the garage than you do on the race track."

Smith agreed.

"I think everybody has a couple [of near-misses] if you're on the backside of the garage," Smith said. "It's very tight over there. You back into tires, you back into generator carts, you name it, you're backing into stuff."

It's not much better on exit, as cars coming down pit road have the right of way to go through the double gate that separates the garage from the track. Once they receive permission to proceed, cars trying to get on the track for practice then have to make a horseshoe turn around the chain-link fence.

"I know it's a tight layout," Reutimann said. "The garages are good. There's enough room for everybody to work. But it's just trying to get into them that's the hard part."

Once they eventually made it through the labyrinth, most teams worked on race setups during Happy Hour, with Mark Martin topping the leaderboard with a quick lap of 155.072 mph. Jeff Gordon was the fastest Chase driver, moving up to second late in the session. David Stremme was third,and Juan Montoya fourth. Three cars in the top six -- Stremme, Travis Kvapil and Michael McDowell -- all need to qualify on time for Sunday's AAA 400.

Kurt Busch, who recorded more than 50 laps in the final session, liked the tire Goodyear brought to the track this weekend.

"The tire is a little bit more staggered this time, making everybody a little bit on the loose side, which is always good here at Dover," Busch said. "Dover is notoriously tough on right-front tires and you have the chance of being on the tight side a lot."

There are four or five garage stalls located right at the narrowest portion of the facility, one of those belonging to Jamie McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet. Because Jimmie Johnson's hauler is parked at an angle no more than perhaps 15 feet from that stall, McMurray had to turn right, then back up as far as he could before the crew could push the car into the garage.

"If it's not the worst garage, it's close," McMurray said. "They should switch ends. They should give the Cup guys [the Nationwide garage in Turns 3 and 4] because it's better. This is about as bad as it gets, for sure. The garage area is a mess here."

Reutimann was sixth-quickest in Happy Hour, but not as happy about his garage space. His No. 00 Toyota was right next to McMurray.

"It's horrible," Reutimann said. "The garage stalls are fine. It's just tight as anyplace we go. I can't think of another place that's tighter. Even Bristol now has got more room than this place does.

"The Nationwide side is actually pretty good over there, but this side is really tight."

Dover isn't the only track on the circuit with a challenging garage area. Brad Keselowski mentioned Watkins Glen as difficult, while Jeff Burton singled out Homestead.

"Homestead's probably harder than here," Burton said. "On the back side of Homestead, it's nearly impossible to get in your garage."

Leave it to Smith to figure out the cheapest way to avoid being caught in Dover's garage squeeze play.

"I guess the easiest way to fix that would be to be higher up in the points and then we'd be on the other side," Smith said. "I could have fixed that myself."