Mash The Gas: Dover Preview

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. [Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images]

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. [Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series eliminates four drivers from the Chase for the Sprint Cup as the Dover International Speedway hosts the Citizen Soldier 400 on Sunday afternoon.

Bad Boy Off Road 300
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
317.4 miles (300 laps)
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
The one-mile high banked oval at Dover has been nicknamed “The Monster Mile” as the track produces high speeds which will keep the drivers on their toes. Dover has been described as Bristol on steroids and the high banks make it a self-cleaning track meaning cars in trouble slide down the track, however an inside wall down the backstretch often sends those cars back into traffic which creates havoc for those trying to avoid the incident. That should especially be on the mind of the Chase drivers as only Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are guaranteed to move to the next round, meaning everyone else can’t afford a bad finish if they wish to keep their championship hopes alive.

After the race, the bottom four drivers in the Chase standings will not advance to the second round as the pressure mounts for the first elimination race and here are some drivers to watch…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
The Dover International Speedway happens to be Matt Kenseth’s favorite racetrack and it shows on the stat sheet as he owns three victories, including the last time the Series visited here, to go along with sixteen top five finishes and twenty three top ten results. Matt Kenseth finishes in the top five at Dover in about half the races he runs there which also bodes well in this the first elimination race. While not totally safe, Kenseth is pretty solid in the points and just needs to stay out of trouble to advance in the Chase. He races well on all the concrete tracks and scored his first victory of the season here back in May by holding off a hard charging Kyle Larson. After letting a victory slip away late last week at New Hampshire, Matt Kenseth and the #20 team should feel confident about coming into Dover to make a statement in the Chase and they are my pick to win this weekend.

Kyle Busch (John Wiedemann)
Kyle Busch has been quiet, consistent and staying out of trouble in the two opening races of the Chase. With two top ten finishes, 8th at Chicagoland and 3rd at New Hampshire, and leading laps, Kyle has positioned himself well and fourth in the Chase Standings. Kyle has a 33 point cushion above the cutoff point in the standings. That doesn’t mean that he can just cruise around the track this weekend. All could still be lost if a wreck or mechanical failure drops him to last place at the finish. However, realistically he should cruise into the Round of 12 following the waving of the checkered flag. Kyle also has a pretty legitimate shot to win this weekend as he has two wins at Dover along with 10 top five and 14 top ten finishes in 23 races at the track.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
Jimmie Johnson owns the stat book at Dover as he holds ten victories at the “Monster Mile” and has led more laps than anyone else. Despite not finding victory lane since the California race back in April and currently in 8th place in the Chase standings, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team have increased their performance and they have had fast race cars over the last few weeks. Jimmie Johnson usually performs best under pressure and in the Chase when it counts and a victory on Sunday would go a long way in letting the rest of the Chase drivers know this team means business in their quest for a record tying seventh championship. Don’t make the mistake of counting out Jimmie Johnson as he should definitely be one of the drivers to watch on Sunday.

Chase Elliott (JW)
I was expecting bigger things out of Chase Elliott last weekend, but I am expecting the biggest this weekend. My prediction is that Elliott will get his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory this weekend at Dover. While his biggest roadblock to getting the victory is probably his teammate Jimmie Johnson, Johnson will probably be part of the biggest support in getting the win. No one knows how to get a car handling perfectly at Dover better than Johnson and some of that information will be shared. Then again maybe it won’t be needed. At Dover in the spring Elliott finished third behind Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson. Elliott needs a top ten to make the next round of the Chase. I predict the win in a spirited battle with his teammate and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Larson (DM)
Kyle Larson holds an average finish of 6th at Dover in only five starts so the “Monster Mile” is becoming a favorite track of his. Last season, Larson finished third in this race and he came within a whisker of winning here in May. That’s important to note as Larson enters this weekend in the 12th and final transfer spot in the Chase standings, just five points ahead of the elimination line. While on the bubble so to speak, Larson should feel confident about the elimination round being in Dover as he is not afraid to search all over the track to find the fastest line around. In May, Kyle Larson and the #42 team really turned their season around with their runner-up finish and now that they return to Dover in the Chase, look for them to be solid contenders to not only win the race but advance to the next Chase round.

Kurt Busch (JW)
In the spring race at Dover this season, Kurt Busch finished in fifth after starting ninth. Kurt will need the same type of performance this weekend to make sure that he moves on to the Round of 12 in the Chase. A ninth place finish or better moves Kurt on to the next round, no matter what happens to the rest of the field. Kurt has one win at Dover in 32 events with an average finish of 18.2. This season overall has been one the better of Kurt’s career and he is averaging an 11.9 finish with a win and 18 top ten runs so far. Keeping on that pace should allow him to move further in the Chase. I expect a solid top ten finish and a spot in the next round of the Chase for Kurt when the checkers wave at Dover.

Tony Stewart (DM)
Tony Stewart’s final start at Dover could also be the race that eliminates him from the Sprint Cup title hunt as the currently sits outside the top twelve in 15th place, six points or positions from the cut off. Stewart does have a victory at Dover but lately his record here is not very good with this best showing since the Fall of 2014 being a 14th place finish. While not in a must win situation, Stewart is in desperate need of a good run as he battles to keep his title hopes alive and we should have a good idea of how his weekend will go as soon as practice begins on Friday. If the Tony Stewart who recently stated he is tired of fighting the fight and looking toward retirement shows up, don’t expect him to advance to the next round. However, if the take no prisoners and determined to win Tony Stewart is behind the wheel at Dover, those already above the elimination cut off could be in trouble if they hope to advance to the next round.

2016 Chase Grid (prior to Dover race)
1 Martin Truex Jr 2086 points
2 Kevin Harvick 2071
3 Brad Keselowski 2087 +35 points above cutoff
4 Kyle Busch 2085 +33
5 Matt Kenseth 2078 +26
6 Joey Logano 2073 +21
7 Denny Hamlin 2071 +19
8 Jimmie Johnson 2070 +18
9 Chase Elliott 2068 +16
10 Carl Edwards 2068 +16
11 Kurt Busch 2067 +15
12 Kyle Larson 2057 +5
13 Jamie McMurray 2052 -5 points below cutoff
14 Austin Dillon 2052 -5
15 Tony Stewart 2046 -11
16 Chris Buescher 2027 -30

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