Mash The Gas: Dover AAA 400 Preview

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. lead the field at the start of the race at the Dover International Speedway. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images]

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. lead the field at the start of the race at the Dover International Speedway. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits another unique track this weekend as the Dover International Speedway hosts the AAA 400 Drive for Autism on Sunday afternoon.

AAA 400 Drive For Autism
Dover International Speedway
400 miles (400 laps)
Sunday, May 15, 1pm ET
FS1, 11:30am ET
MRN, 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.

A new tire compound and the new aerodynamic rules also will make for an interesting race on Sunday and here are some drivers to watch…

Kevin Harvick (Dan Margetta)
While all signs point to Jimmie Johnson as the top driver at Dover, a look over recent races will show Kevin Harvick has been really good here of late. Harvick scored a dominating victory at Dover last Fall when he led 355 of the race’s 400 laps and he finished second in this race a year ago after being passed by Johnson with 23 laps to go. Harvick will drive the same chassis that dominated the Fall Dover race last year and he is listed at 6-1 odds to win on Sunday. Overall, he has one Dover victory and five top five finishes and he has finished in the top ten fourteen times. Harvick already has a win this season and he should be a strong candidate to pick up his second victory of 2016 at Dover on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson (John Wiedemann)
It is just a fact that the most successful driver at Dover International Speedway is Jimmie Johnson. The stats are pretty much unbelievable. Johnson captured his tenth win at Dover last season and is the fifth driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to win ten or more times at a specific track. In 28 races at Dover, Johnson has finished in the top ten 20 times and 15 of those were top five runs. While the defending champion of this race is not a lock to win again, Johnson should be the top favorite and has a great chance to return to the top of the leader board in wins for this season so far.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
Matt Kenseth finally put together a good finish last weekend when he scored his first top five result of the season at Kansas. Now the series heads to Dover which happens to be Kenseth’s favorite racetrack and it shows on the stat sheet as he owns two victories to go along with fifteen top five finishes and twenty two top ten results. Basically Kenseth finishes in the top five at Dover in about half the races he runs there. He’s listed at 8-1 odds this weekend and with the team finally putting together a complete race run for a good finish, he should be one to watch on Sunday. Kenseth is still in need of a victory to get him solidly in the Chase and that first trip to victory lane in 2016 could very well come on Sunday in the AAA 400 at Dover.

Ryan Newman (JW)
Tied with New Hampshire, Dover is the place where Ryan Newman has been most successful with three wins. Newman also has thirteen top ten and six top five finishes at the Monster Mile. Last weekend was Newman’s best result of the season when he finished seventh, his third top ten run in the last six races. Newman continues to climb towards Chase eligibility and now sits just two points out of the final spot, currently held by rookie Ryan Blaney. If past success and a current hot streak mean anything, Ryan Newman could have a good run this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
This track is the closest one to Martin Truex’s hometown in New Jersey so this is a “home” race for him. Like Matt Kenseth, Truex has had some dominating runs this season with little to show for it in the long run. It’s becoming a troubling pattern for this team to beat themselves and let victories slip away. Dover is a good place to right the ship for Truex as he does have a victory here which happened to be his first win back in 2007. Last season in this race he led 131 laps and finished a strong sixth. Truex is listed at 10-1 odds this weekend and he needs a strong run to avoid letting the mistakes get into his head. Sunday presents another good opportunity for Truex and the #78 team to redeem themselves and it remains to be seen if they can capitalize on it.

Carl Edwards (JW)
Carl Edwards is on his way to being known as “Concrete Carl” instead of “Cousin Carl”. Edwards has won on tracks that have concrete surfaces spanning all three NASCAR national series. His most recent win at the concrete surfaced Bristol Motor Speedway added to his totals giving him 16 victories, 44 top five and 59 top ten finishes. At Dover, Edwards has a 10.5 average finish including a win in the 2007 fall race. Last season, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing, featured top ten starting spots but the finishes were not as successful. A great start to this season with two victories so far has Carl looking like he might be the guy on top this weekend.

Kyle Larson (DM)
One driver in particular to watch this weekend is Kyle Larson who has been running up front in recent weeks. He’s listed at 30-1 odds this weekend but I’m making him my long shot pick as he finished third in the last race contested at Dover. Over only four starts he holds an average finish of around 7th so Dover is a track he seems to adapt well too. Plus Kyle Larson is not afraid to get up on the wheel and rim-ride around the high banks often utilizing a high line few are brazen enough to attempt at “The Monster Mile.” Larson had a strong run going last weekend at Kansas before being swept up in an accident and I think the #42 team could surprise some people this weekend in Dover. If you are looking for a possible first time winner to cheer for on Sunday, Kyle Larson is your guy.

Austin Dillon (JW)
Austin Dillon continues to impress this season as he is coming into his own driving the #3 for Richard Childress Racing. Currently eighth in total points so far this season, Dillon is solidly in Chase contention as he continues to pile up solid runs with six top ten and already a career high three top five finishes. In five races at the Monster Mile, Dillon has a best finish of 20th. But this has been a different season and expectations have been ratcheted up. Look for a top twelve finish from the young racer as he solidifies his position in the standings.

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