Here's a viewer's guide for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway:
A one-mile, high-banked, bumpy oval covered in concrete, Dover International Speedway is unlike any other track on the Sprint Cup schedule. The day often makes for a long and constant battle for drivers to find some grip, and the result is a track many of them have a hard time figuring out.
Because of the above, as well as the fact this track typically sees its share of long stretches of green-flag racing, it is very easy to see teams if they miss the setup find themselves in a hole early that they can't climb out of.
Pit Road Will Make All The Difference
Pay attention to pit road as that is likely where today's race is going to be decided. First is the challenge of just getting onto pit road as the transition from the racing surface to the pits is an abrupt one, then there is the chore of navigating what is a very narrow pit road with smaller than normal stalls compared to other tracks.
Case in point: Two years ago, Jimmie Johnson dominated this race leading 225 of a possible 400 laps, but a costly speeding penalty during his final pit stop proved to be costly and he handed the win to Kyle Busch.
Ever since Jimmie Johnson scored the 200th victory for Hendrick Motorsports at Darlington, the four-car team has been unbeatable with Johnson winning the non-points All-Star Race the following week and Kasey Kahne driving away with the Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday at Charlotte.
With Johnson setting the second fastest qualifying time and having been victorious here six times, as well as Jeff Gordon conquering the Monster Mile on four occasions and Dale Earnhardt Jr. once – not to mention Kahne entering this weekend having finished no worse than eighth in his last six starts – that streak has an excellent chance of continuing this afternoon.
...And JGR Is As Well
The Hendrick juggernaut may be getting the bulk of the attention as of late, but there is another team who has been just as good, as the Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have each more than held their own as of late. Busch is in the midst of a streak where he hasn't finished worse than 11th in his last six starts, while Hamlin has a win, two seconds and a fourth in his last four races.
• A victory today would be Jimmie Johnson's seventh on the Monster Mile and move him into a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most all-time victories at Dover.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only driver this season to have completed every lap.
• Pole-sitter Mark Martin has more top-five (23) and top-10 (31) finishes at Dover than anyone else.
• In the 18 total starts and 6,937 laps he's completed at Dover, Casey Mears has yet to lead a single lap.
1. Jimmie Johnson
If a driver is going to win at Dover they are going to have to go through Jimmie Johnson, as the man who has won more races on the Monster Mile than any other active driver. He has led no less than 157 laps in his last six Dover starts and has posted three wins in that same span.
2. Matt Kenseth
His stats aren't as gaudy as Johnson's but the numbers of the defending winner of the FedEx 400 are impressive nonetheless. In total, Matt Kenseth is a two-time Dover winner who in his last 12 starts has one win, nine top-fives and 10 top-10s.
3. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch is either really good at Dover or really bad with little in-between. And, as noted above, with him entering this weekend with momentum firmly on his side and a car good enough to clock-in the fourth-fastest time in Friday's opening practice, expect a great performance.