Complete Preview for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Dover
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Tick tock. Tick tock.
Time is about to start running out for some of the 13 drivers in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway is the third of the 10 races in the Chase.
And if things hold true to form, as in Chase races of the past at Dover, we should begin to see a distinct demarcation in those drivers who will still have a chance in the Chase and others who will likely see their Chase chances come to an end, for all intents and purposes.
A lot of eyes will be on current points leader Matt Kenseth, who has started out the Chase in resounding fashion by winning each of the first two races at Chicago and New Hampshire.
And not too far behind is Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who has held serve with Kenseth, finishing second in each of the first two races.
Let's drop the green flag on the preview for Sunday's race and who will leave Dover afterward, as the haves and have nots.
Dover Race Information
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The third race of the Chase takes place this Sunday in Dover, Del. Here are all of the important details:
Race: AAA 400
Track: Dover International Speedway (one-mile concrete oval, one of two all-concrete racing surfaces in Sprint Cup Series; the other is Bristol Motor Speedway)
Distance: 400 laps to make up 400 miles
Green Flag: Sunday afternoon, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90)
Defending Race Winner: Brad Keselowski
First Race: July 06, 1969 (won by Richard Petty)
Breaking Down Dover International Speedway
Dover International Speedway is in its 44th year of hosting Cup races. Located about 75 miles south of Philadelphia and about a three-plus-hour drive from New York, it draws considerable fans from those two major metro areas, as well as Baltimore and Washington D.C.
What makes DIS so unique is it's the only track in NASCAR's pro ranks that is a all-concrete racing surface. At one mile, it has decent banking, and the turns can be tight. More often than not, races at DIS oftentimes turn into fuel-mileage events.
An irony of sorts is that the winner of this race last season, Brad Keselowski, failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season. And, Tony Stewart, who won at DIS in June, won't be able to defend that race win because of the broken leg he suffered in early August that ended his season completely.
There have been 34 different race winners and 36 pole winners in the 87 races contested since the so-called "Monster Mile" opened.
Three drivers share the most wins there, with only Jimmie Johnson remaining active. The other two are Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
Top Storylines at Dover
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Last Chance for Earnhardt, Logano and Kahne?
This will be a very crucial race for those who have started the Chase poorly. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th place, 62 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth), Joey Logano (12th, 69 back) and Kasey Kahne (13th, 71 back) must do well in this race and make a big jump upward in the points, lest they will be all but eliminated with seven races still left to go.
Three in a Row for Kenseth?
Can Matt Kenseth make NASCAR history by winning the first three Chase races? He's already tied the record for wins in the first two (tying former teammate Greg Biffle). Kenseth leads the series with seven wins in the first 28 races, a .250 winning percentage, which is the best of any driver since Jimmie Johnson won 10 races in 2007 and seven races each in 2008 and 2009.
Tired of Being the First Loser?
Kyle Busch has finished second behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in each of the first two races. But you can bet Busch is not happy finishing next-best. Look for him to give Kenseth all he can handle Sunday.
Drivers Atop the Point Standings
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Two races in, Matt Kenseth has been unstoppable. He's never looked better—or stronger, enjoying the most successful season of his career, next to his championship-winning campaign in 2003.
Here's How the Top Five Drivers Heading into Dover Stack Up:
1. Matt Kenseth: Series-high seven wins, winner of last two races and a strong candidate to make it three in a row.
2. Kyle Busch: After finishing second in each of the first two races, the younger Busch brother is primed for his fifth win of the season. Dover is one of his favorite tracks, and if there's anyone to break Kenseth's winning streak, it's "KyBusch."
3. Jimmie Johnson: Although he's only 18 points behind Kenseth in the standings, Jimmie Johnson is still looking for his first win in this year's Chase. He still has high hopes for a sixth Cup championship.
4. Carl Edwards: Continues to ride under the radar. Edwards is 36 points behind his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Kenseth, but can't afford to have a bad race, lest that spread grow greater going into the fourth race of the season next week.
5. Greg Biffle: Climbed six places to fifth in this week's standings, most of any driver. Biffle is 38 points behind Kenseth and could close that gap even more as Dover is one of Biffle's best tracks.
Favorites at Dover
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Jimmie Johnson is the winningest active driver at Dover with seven wins. If there was ever a place for him to overtake points leader, Matt Kenseth, it's at Dover this Sunday. In addition to his seven wins, Johnson also has 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes, along with three poles in 23 career starts at Dover. His average start is 10.3, and his average finish is an outstanding 9.0.
Dover is one of Biffle's strongest tracks. In 22 starts, he has two wins, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. Given how he's made one of the biggest moves upward in the standings in the first two races, Biffle could be primed to jump up even more—especially if he pulls off a win this Sunday.
Kyle Busch is in the Chase to win it, not to finish second like he has in the playoffs' first two races. He has a great record at Dover: 17 starts, two wins, eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes.
The four-time Cup champ still has hopes of winning a fifth title before he retires. He's started off this year's Chase in OK form, but not the type of form he would like to have.
Gordon currently sits eighth in the standings, 42 points behind Matt Kenseth. In 41 career starts at Dover, Gordon has four wins, 16 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. If there was ever a place he can pull off a win—and don't forget Gordon has yet to visit victory lane this season—it's Sunday at Dover.
The ageless Mark Martin, even though he's not in the Chase, can still do a lot of damage this Sunday, particularly to those drivers who are in the Chase and struggling.
Martin has 54 career starts at Dover, with four wins, 24 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes. If you're in Vegas and looking to lay down some money on a driver in Sunday's race, Martin is about as much of a sure thing as there is.
Last Five Winners: Tony Stewart (June 2013), Brad Keselowski (September 2012), Jimmie Johnson (June 2012), Kurt Busch (October 2011) and Matt Kenseth (May 2011).
Most Wins by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (7)
Most Poles by Active Driver: Mark Martin (5)
Youngest Race Winner: Kyle Busch (06/01/2008—23 years, 0 months, 30 days)
Oldest Race Winner: Harry Gant (05/31/1992—52 years, 4 months, 21 days)
Best Average Starting Position by Active Driver: Ryan Newman (9.304)
Best Average Finishing Position by Active Driver: Carl Edwards (8.611)
Races won from pole position: 13
Last Race Won From Pole: Jimmie Johnson (09/26/2010)
Most Cautions in One Race: 16 (09/19/1993)
Fewest Cautions in One Race: 0 (06/06/1971)
Race Record: Mark Martin (132.719 mph, Sept. 21, 1997)
Qualifying Record: Jeremy Mayfield (161.522 mph, June 6, 2004)
Most Laps Led by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (2,461)
Most Laps Completed by Active Driver: Terry Labonte (21,896)
Most Lead Lap Finishes by Active Driver: Mark Martin (31 in 54 starts)
Most Top 10s by Active Driver: Mark Martin (24 in 54 starts)
First Win at Track by Active Driver: Martin Truex Jr. (06/04/2007)
First Pole at Track by Active Driver: Matt Kenseth (06/02/2002) and Michael Waltrip (06/03/1991)
Most DNFs by Active Driver (four or more starts): Michael Waltrip (14 I 48 starts) and Joe Nemechek (14 in 38 starts)
Fewest DNFs by Active Driver (four or more starts): Jamie McMurray (0 in 21 starts)
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With two wins, 13 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 29 career starts at Dover, Matt Kenseth certainly has the past track record to continue the outstanding start he's had in this year's Chase to date.
Kenseth is one of the top performers on the all-concrete surface and has learned all the nuances of the one-mile, moderately banked track.
Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards are also eager to get their first win of the Chase this Sunday as well.
Because there's so much on the line in this race, particularly for low-ranking Chase entrants like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, we could see a crazy, caution-filled race.
This has the potential to become a race that could set the tone for the remainder of the Chase—for both those in high contention as well as those on the verge of being knocked out of further Chase contention.
As much as people may disagree, I'm going to go against the grain—and the odds—and pick Kenseth to make it three wins in a row. Also look for some of his closest chasers to struggle at Dover, which could allow Kenseth to open up an even bigger lead in the points after Sunday's race.
Dover Winner: Matt Kenseth