Dover International Speedway is a one-of-a-kind track on the NASCAR schedule. It's a high-banked, one mile concrete oval, like Bristol in some respects, except twice as long.
Dover has been on the NASCAR schedule and has hosted two Cup races every year since 1972. 12 races have been won from the pole and only 17 have been won from worse than a top-10 starting position.
Carl Edwards has the best average finish among active drivers at 7.7, but he has only one Dover victory. Eight current drivers have multiple Dover wins: Jimmie Johnson (6), Jeff Gordon (4), Mark Martin (4), Bill Elliott (4), Ryan Newman (3), Greg Biffle (2), Tony Stewart (2) and Kyle Busch (2).
What can we expect to see at Dover on Sunday afternoon? Here are my best predictions.
Carl Edwards (one win, 7.7 average finish), Matt Kenseth (one win, 12.9 average finish) and Greg Biffle (two wins, 11.0 average finish) are undeniably stout at Dover.
David Ragan, not so much. His average finish is 23.6 in nine starts at the track. He has yet to lead a lap or even finish on the lead lap.
However, I predict that Ragan will finally put it together at Dover. Ragan has run well at multiple track types this year, and he'll be borrowing heavily from the notes of his teammates for the high-banked concrete mile track. If he wants to stay with Roush after this year, he needs to show improvement, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to impress his boss.
If Ragan's teammates can stay out of trouble, they are pretty much guaranteed a top-10. The threesome swept the top three positions for Roush in the fall 2008 event. The wild card here is Ragan, but I think he'll come through.
It's Jimmie time!
Jimmie Johnson has won three of the last four races at the Monster Mile and has six wins at the track overall. He's led an average of 246 laps during the last four races there, or 61.5 percent of the total laps run. That's dominance by any measure.
I expect Johnson to add to his Dover trophy collection on Sunday. This may not be a bold prediction, except for the fact that there are 42 other drivers who will do everything in their power to keep that from happening.
As we saw at Darlington with Regan Smith, almost anyone has a shot to win on any given day if circumstances go their way. Pit strategy, fuel gambles, weather and any number of variables can work for or against drivers depending on the situation.
But will that change the seemingly inevitable dominance of Jimmie Johnson and Dover International Speedway?
I doubt it.
Mark Martin and Jeff Burton have struggled this year, to say the least.
Martin is sitting 14th in the points and has just three top-10s and no top-fives. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton has yet to score a top-10 finish and is mired at 23rd place in the points.
However, Dover provides an excellent opportunity for both drivers to put together strong runs.
Burton finished second in both Dover events last year, coming on strong at the end of both races. It may be too late for Burton to make a run at the Chase, but this is an excellent chance for the No. 31 team to at least build some momentum and possibly steal a victory.
Martin has finished in the top 15 at Dover in 13 of the last 14 races there. During that span, he has a win, two runner-ups, a third-place finish and three fourth-place results. Martin needs to start running in the top five rather than the mid-teens if he's going to make the Chase. He's only 14 points behind Matt Kenseth for 10th place, and this weekend is a good time to start moving up in the points.
Last September, A.J. Allmendinger qualified second at Dover and took the lead from eventual winner Jimmie Johnson about 10 laps into the race. He led 143 laps before lug nut issues took him out of the running, although he rallied to finish seventh.
I expect Allmendinger to build on those accomplishments and get his first Dover top five on Sunday. He's finished no worse than 14th here the last three races, so his strong run last fall was no fluke.
If he can qualify well and get into a comfortable rhythm around the high-banked concrete oval, Allmendinger should finish in the top five and move into the top 10 in the standings.
In the last two races, Paul Menard has lost seven positions in the standings, slipping from from 11th to 18th. Menard finished 37th at Richmond following a crash and struggled to a 22nd-place result at Darlington.
Menard will find it hard to bounce back at Dover. He finished seventh there last fall, but other than that one good run, he's never finished better than 19th in six other starts at the track.
One factor that could work in his favor is qualifying. He's qualified in the top 10 in two of his last three tries, and starting position is crucial at Dover, where a majority of race winners start in the top five.
Maybe what Menard needs is to shave his beard and go back to his trademark sideburns to get momentum going for him again.
Dover fans have witnessed dominating performances by pairs of drivers in the last four races: Jimmie Johnson and one other driver. Here are the top two lap leaders for the past four Dover events.
Fall 2010: Jimmie Johnson, 191 laps (winner); A.J. Allmendinger, 143 laps.
Spring 2010: Jimmie Johnson, 225 laps; Kyle Busch, 131 laps (winner).
Fall 2009: Jimmie Johnson, 271 laps (winner); Kurt Busch, 99 laps.
Spring 2009: Jimmie Johnson, 298 laps (winner); Greg Biffle, 41 laps.
Jimmie Johnson has been nothing short of dominant. However, there may be hope for other drivers. His laps led total has decreased each race over that span, while the laps led total of the driver with the second-most laps led has increased from race to race.
Kasey Kahne has been plagued with inconsistency throughout his career, especially the last few years.
Kahne won a couple of races in 2009, but last year, Richard Petty Motorsports went through major upheavals. This season, Kahne is with a more stable organization in Team Red Bull, but his stay with them is anything but long-term, as he's moving on to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted Kahne would go winless and miss the Chase, and I'm not changing those predictions after a couple of strong runs. History is against his quest for success at Dover.
In 14 Dover starts, Kahne has just three top-10s and an average finish of 22.9. He's led only 88 laps with five DNF's and just four lead-lap finishes. Kahne finished 20th and 28th at Dover in 2010. I don't expect anything much better from Kahne this Sunday.