Chase Viewer's Guide: Round 2

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

After the first race in the Chase for the Nextel Cup everybody is still in the hunt, even Kurt Busch, who is 102 points back. That's really not many points at all. After Loudon, everybody told Carl Edwards, "Hey, man. What happened?" He said, "What do you mean? We were 12th. That wasn't bad at all." With nine races to go, there really isn't a clear-cut favorite. But Dover has the potential to shake up the Chase with a big wreck. It presents a big challenge because it's such a fast track, 1 mile in length with a lot of banking. The drivers don't have much time to rest. It's challenging physically and mentally. Larry McReynolds calls it a Bristol on steroids, but it's also a mini-Talladega. It's a place where trouble will find you. Recently, we've had some pretty calm races. But the opportunity for the mini-Big One exists, because there's just not much room. Obviously, the drivers are hoping that their fellow racers stay well-mannered.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon hasn't won at the Monster Mile since 2001, but the No. 24 team has just been so good this year with 22 top-10 finishes in 27 races this season. They've just been so good every week.
  • Jimmie Johnson: After a little bit of a slump late in the summer, he's won two poles and two races in the last three races. Experts are saying that Gordon, Johnson and Tony Stewart are the three favorites.
  • Tony Stewart: A two-time winner at Dover, if anybody has a slight edge for the title, it would be those three drivers. But that's a slight edge.
  • Martin Truex Jr.: Even though Truex has a different race car this week than the one that won the race in June, his record indicates that he could drive the proverbial covered wagon and be fast. We could definitely see another Dover sweep.
  • Greg Biffle: Carl Edwards told me that Biffle was going to be really fast. It's been a disappointing season for Biffle. If he can pull off a win on Sunday, it would help him because he's been very frustrated.
  • What to Watch

  • Taming the monster: Elliott Sadler led 128 laps two years ago at Dover, but didn't keep up with the racetrack after the halfway mark, so teams have to be careful. It's one of those tracks where you can jump the shark and go too far with adjustments. You have to make smaller adjustments and hope that you're going the right way.
  • Precise adjustments: You'll see air pressure, wedge and track-bar adjustments, but the key is not just what adjustments are made, but the degree to which you make them. You say you're loose or tight or you can't get through the middle, but you have to be accurate and on the money at Dover more than any other place. It's easy to get misled. That's what makes Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus so good. They usually predict how the track is going to change, and then they do a great job of reacting to it.
  • Winning takes greatness: The driver who has led the most laps has won 51 out of 75 races at Dover. The all-time winners list reads like the NASCAR Hall of Fame with drivers like Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bill Elliott. It's a track that demands greatness from its winners.
  • Crew chief must avoid pit falls: Pit road is extremely crowded, and it emphasizes the importance of a crew chief clearing his driver when he exits his pit stall. He's got to look behind and in front and make sure there's an opening when service is complete.
  • Spot on: Everything happens so fast at Dover that if there's an incident in the front of the field, spotters need to make sure they get the driver away from the mess ahead of them on the racetrack. Drivers can run different grooves at this concrete track, and spotters talk about where the leaders are running. You'll hear, "Why don't you try moving up a little bit higher? That's where the leaders are running right now." So that's important as well.
  • Tire concerns: Tires are always a concern at Dover. When crew chief Tommy Baldwin was working with Ward Burton, he told me it's hard to get a driver to ease into the corners. They put a lot of load on that right front tire. Not that there's anything wrong with the tires, but you can't abuse your right-side rubber. After the first pit stop, teams look at the tires and the check tread depth, which is a good way to check setup as well.
  • Pit Perspective

    With the No. 8 crew chief Tony Eury Jr. going to Hendrick Motorsports on Oct. 8, it's great for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 2008. Tony Gibson will become the crew chief, and he did a great job filling in while Eury Jr. was on suspension. But Jeff Hammond made a great point: Gibson isn't going to have Eury Jr. on the telephone or at the race shop anymore. Although I hosted Dale Jr.'s sponsor/number news conference from the Charlotte studio, I listened to every word he had to say. He's very determined to go out on a high note. DEI has been his home in more ways than one, and it's important for him to be a complete professional.

    Finish Line

    It's an interesting racetrack because you have to be fast, but you also have to last. You've got to keep up with the track, and be aggressive with adjustments. But drivers have to be patient on the track. These guys feel pressure when Martin Truex Jr. leads over half the race. They know when somebody has hit the hot setup or has a good race car. Sometimes they feel a little pressure to perhaps overdrive the equipment. The stakes are a lot higher now because there are nine races to go in the Chase. With every single race, there's more and more pressure.

    Speed Mail Steve

    FOX football picks

  • New York Giants at Washington Redskins, Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET on FOX: The Redskins really surprised me in Philadelphia. Quarterback Jason Campbell shows a lot of poise. He's got a big arm, but he showed me a lot of maturity in the pocket. The Giants have had some injury problems, so I like the Redskins.
  • Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET on FOX: The whole Michael Vick scenario has been unfortunate for the Falcons franchise. But the Panthers had a 14-0 lead over the Houston Texans on Sunday and completely fell apart. You can say this every week, but the Panthers had better win this game.

  • NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Ward Burton, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards

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