As we enter the third race of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the 13 contenders face a track that is as vicious as Darlington and is as much of a wild card as Talladega: Dover.
While some of the Chase contenders have been successful at Dover, others have found out all too well that the moniker "The Monster Mile" is a name that is well earned by the concrete mile. Here is a look at how the Chase field will fare at Dover.
Kasey Kahne (13th, -71 points back)
The Enumclaw, WA native sits mired in 13th following a disastrous outing at Loudon when his No. 5 Chevy was sent into the frontstretch retaining wall relegating him to a 37th-place finish. While his Hendrick Motorsports crew has shown more muscle than ever in 2013, Dover may be their biggest obstacle yet.
In 19 starts at Dover, Kahne has only one top-five and five top-10 finishes. Decent enough results, until you figure in the six DNFs he has logged there during the course of his career. He has a penchant for getting into trouble there, as four of those DNFs were due to crashes.
Earlier this year he finished four laps off the pace in 23rd, which is nowhere near indicative of what that team is capable of. If he wants to make a run at Matt Kenseth for the title, he needs to get his Chase turned around here.
Joey Logano (12th, -69 points back)
In what has been a career season for the 23-year-old Penske driver, his performance in the first two Chase races has been typical for the regular Chase rookie (37th at Chicago, 14th at Loudon). But things may look better for Logano come Dover, a track where he has a best finish of third in 2010.
With one top-five and five top-10 finishes, including a seventh there in June, Logano seems to be thriving at the one-mile tracks behind the wheel of Penske's Fords. Don't get your hopes up on any possibility of Logano's name on the Sprint Cup championship trophy, but look for him to improve on his points position at Dover with a strong top-10 run, if not a top-five. A win isn't out of the question.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th, -62 points back)
Despite having not won at Dover in 12 years, Junior has been one of the most consistent drivers at the concrete mile. In 27 starts he has completed 99.1% of the laps he has run there. Don't let the five top-fives and nine top-10s fool you, either. He finished 10th there in June, and looks to post another consistent run there this Sunday.
The best the No. 88 team would be able to post on Sunday would be a top-10 for that matter. Junior isn't a naturally aggressive driver, and his setups reflect that. While it may be a strong points day for Junior, don't look for him to gain any large strides on the points leaders come Sunday. He's been doing good, but just not good enough.
Clint Bowyer (10th, -48 points back)
The driver of the No. 15 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing is looking to make a breakthrough at Dover, and Sunday could be his best chance. He recorded his first (and only) top-five there to date in June of 2012 when he finished fifth there. He's recorded five consecutive top-10s there to go along with his eight overall.
A win come Sunday could launch him further along in the points and out of the 10th spot. He's been decent in the first two Chase races (ninth at Chicago, 17th at Loudon), but a win on Sunday could help the MWR gain on the leaders and possibly put some of the team turmoil on the back burner.
Ryan Newman (9th, -47 points back)
One person who is undoubtedly happy to get to Dover is Newman. Newman has been keeping out of trouble during the first two races of the Chase and looks to keep that going with a strong run come Sunday.
In 23 starts there he has three wins, six top-fives and 11 top-10s. He has only two DNFs there, both crashes, one of which was in June. However, he had started fifth that day and looked to post a strong finish that day.
Newman's been determined to make the most of this Chase opportunity given that he almost didn't have that chance two weeks ago. He's tamed the Dover Monster more than once, and look to him to tame it again Monday.
Jeff Gordon (8th, -42 points back)
Gone are the days of Gordon's dominance and his penchant for staying out of trouble, but he has still been making the most of his Chase chances with a sixth in Chicago and a 15th at Loudon. He now faces one of his toughest challenges at Dover, a track where he has won four times.
In 41 starts at Dover, Gordon has posted 16 top-fives and 23 top-10s to go along with his four wins. However he last won at Dover in 2001. Since then, he hasn't been as strong. But he has posted two straight top-fives there including a third-place in June. Look for him to carry on that streak at Dover, where has always been strong.
Kurt Busch (7th, -40 points back)
Win or lose, this team is the ultimate Cinderella story of 2013 largely in thanks to Busch, who is on the comeback trail. The trail is making a stop at the site of his last Sprint Cup win, and he couldn't be happier.
With a fourth-place finish at Chicago and a 13th-place at Loudon, Busch looks to continue his hot streak at Dover, where he has six top-fives and eight top-10s in 26 starts. The Furniture Row Racing team has been remarkably consistent with Busch this year, and given their 12th-place run there in June, look for the No. 78 team to do much better there Sunday.
Kevin Harvick (6th, -39 points back)
For a team capable of winning championships, they're going to have to work hard at Dover to get out of the rut their 20th-place finish at Loudon brought them. That's not to say that Harvick is a slouch at Dover. In 25 starts he has three top-fves and 11 top-10s.
But that's the problem. Harvick hasn't quite figured Dover out. He's winless there and three top-fives in 25 starts is a poor batting average for the No. 29 crew. Top-10s are nice, but they don't get the job done for those in the hunt for a championship.
Harvick has surprised us before by winning at tracks he hasn't normally done well at, such as Fontana in 2011. But, realistically speaking, don't expect the No. 29 at Dover come Sunday. There's too much on the line, and the guys ahead of him are going to be tough to beat.
Greg Biffle (5th, -38 points back)
Biffle's third-place at Loudon helped him break into the top-five in points, but a win Sunday would be enough to put him in striking distance of the lead. Given his record at Dover, that is a very strong possibility.
He's won twice in 22 starts, with six top-fives and 10 top-10s to boot. But he has not posted a top-10 there since he finished sixth there in the spring of 2010. The Roush camp is normally strong on the mile speedways, and Biffle in particular seems to thrive there. But if he wants to get ahead in points, he needs to turn around his recent luck there come Sunday.
Carl Edwards (4th, -36 points back)
Edwards has been kind of stuck in a funk for the first two Chase races, as he finished 11th at Chicago and ninth at Loudon. Both runs were impressive compared to others, but they haven't been able to touch Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Dover's been good to Edwards over the years, with a win, eight top-fives and 12 top-10s in 18 starts. He finished fifth in this race a year ago, and finished 14th there in the spring. His Roush-Fenway group hasn't been as strong as they were in 2011, but they've been doing extremely well in 2013. He's got a good chance of contending on Sunday, so keep an eye on that No. 99 Ford.
Jimmie Johnson (3rd, -18 points back)
Johnson has been in his typical championship form since that Chase started. He recorded a fifth at Chicago and a fourth at Loudon and looks to add another Dover trophy to his already packed shelf. He has won there seven times in 23 starts, with 11 top-fives and 16 top-10s to boot.
Don't let his 17th-place result in June fool you. He won there in June 2012 and finished fourth in this race a year ago. Johnson is the biggest threat to the Gibbs Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Kenseth, and there is no reason not to suspect a Johnson win around the corner. He likes Dover, and Dover seems to like him.
Kyle Busch (2nd, -14 points back)
Two consecutive second-places to start the Sprint Cup Chase has given Busch the best Chase start of his young career. The Gibbs Toyotas have been on a roll this year, and with the point lead within his grasp Busch is going to give it his all at Dover.
In 17 starts he has won there twice, with eight top-fives and 11 top-10s. He finished fourth there in the spring and is poised to possibly capture the point lead on Sunday. Look to Busch possibly winning on Sunday.
Matt Kenseth (Points Leader)
The last driver to win the first two races of the Chase was Tony Stewart, who did so in 2011. He would go on to win his third championship that year. If history is any indicator, Kenseth could be well on his way to doing the same, but he'll have to beat Dover somehow.
He's made 29 starts at the concrete mile, but has only won there twice. 13 top-fives and 18 top-10s help his chances, but not by much. The last time he place a top-10 there was in June of 2012 when he finished third, but his next two finishes were 35th and 40th.
He started fourth there in June before blowing his engine, so he'll have to play a slightly conservative race if he wants to walk out with the points lead. He's got a nice enough cushion on Kyle Busch, so risking it at Dover would be a bad idea. Look for a top-10 out of him come Sunday, nothing more.
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