NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers head to Dover International Speedway for a trio of races this weekend. While the recent feuds between drivers have taken the headlines, there's a lot more to anticipate this weekend. Here are 10 storylines to watch at Dover:
The team is reorganizing as technical director Tom German prepares to leave for a prestigious educational opportunity. Kurt Busch, he of the profanity-riddled rant about German a couple of weeks ago, and teammate Brad Keselowski need to find speed fast if they want to compete with the front-runners on a regular basis. To this point, the crafty calls of Busch’s team are what have kept him near the top. Watch this weekend to see if he finds more speed – or more frustration – as the team begins the transition.
Dover is tough on drivers and pit crews when it comes to making stops. It’s a tight pit road, which makes it more difficult to get in and out of the stalls and to stay off other drivers as competitors zoom in and out. The pressure on the pit crews is no less than ever. Speed is king, and races can be one with a fast stop – so watch those guys closely this weekend.
He’s a monster
They don’t call him “Concrete Carl” for nothing. Edwards is tough on this surface at all tracks on which it is featured. The Sprint Cup points leader has only one win in 13 Dover starts, but he has nine top-10 finishes, six of them top fives, in that stretch. He has an average finish of 7.7 there.
Going too fast?
Dover may be a 1-mile track, but the high-banked concrete oval is fast and treacherous. Drivers reach higher speeds than one might expect on a track of this size, creating complications in traffic and in completing passes as they attempt a clean race on the track known as the Monster Mile.
Get up to speed
OK, it’s time for those drivers well outside of the top 10 to start feeling a little panicky. Right now, Jeff Gordon is in 17th and in control of the wild-card spot as all other Sprint Cup-eligible winners, except Regan Smith, are inside the top 10 in the standings. Smith is outside the top 20, so he doesn’t qualify yet for that berth. Beyond Gordon are some troubling prospects. Jamie McMurray is 21st and 52 points behind 10th-place Matt Kenseth. Denny Hamlin is 16th, but just 19 points back now. Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton are all drivers outside the top 10 who need to begin climbing if they want to contend for the Chase this season. With 16 races left before the field is set, it’s time to get moving.
On the verge of history
Sure, Kyle Busch could be continuing his feud this weekend with Kevin Harvick. But he also could be tying more records. Busch has 48 career wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – one shy of Mark Martin’s mark. In addition, he has 95 career national series wins. If Busch wins the Nationwide race this weekend, he’ll tie Martin twice – in overall career victories and in Nationwide wins. If he wins twice, he’ll pass Martin and tie Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt on the overall wins list with 97. If he wins three times, he’ll be third overall on the list – behind only David Pearson and Richard Petty.
Can he do it again?
Regan Smith was the surprise winner last week, thrusting him into the national spotlight for taking a Denver-based team to Victory Lane in one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races. This weekend, he’ll reach new heights in terms of attention paid to his every move – and to him and his Furniture Row Racing team during the race. Can they pull off another upset win? And, perhaps more important, can he move into the top 20 in points and be in position to snare one of the two wild-card positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
This is it, folks. This is the last chance for Dale Earnhardt Jr. – or anyone not in the field – to lock up a berth in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Of course, Junior is probably – and we use the term lightly – already locked into the race via the fan vote, but this weekend is his chance to snare a spot with a win, as Regan Smith did last weekend. Earnhardt Jr. has been running great, and this season has proven nothing more than the fact that anything really can happen on Sunday. Is this his week to shine once more?
Getty ImagesChris Graythen
J.J. – again
Watch out, this is Jimmie Johnson’s favorite kind of track – one on which he wins a lot. Johnson has won three of the past four Sprint Cup races at Dover and has six Cup wins there overall, one short of the all-time record (which is held by Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison). He has led 985 of the 1,600 laps in the past four races at Dover. And he’s second in the standings and trying to make up ground on Carl Edwards. Watch out – Johnson could be dangerous this weekend.
OK, perhaps we were a bit premature in saying that the boys-have-at-it attitude had waned this season. In the past two weeks, NASCAR has seen its share of fireworks with the spat between Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya and then the Kevin Harvick-Kyle Busch blowup. Despite fines to the latter pair, there’s little chance this is over. Harvick and Busch have three shots at each other this weekend as they are competing in a trio of events. Probation probably won’t matter when tempers flare. So watch out for this quad of drivers, and others, at Dover.