One of the biggest stories of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season to date has been the number of different winners, 10 in 12 points races so far.
In reality, coming up with an 11th new winner in Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway would be something of an upset. Everything so far points to NASCAR’s Big Dogs continuing to hunt when they tackle 400 laps around the Monster Mile.
Consider the following: The drivers starting in the front four rows at Dover have combined to win a staggering 250 Sprint Cup races — almost seven full years’ worth — including nine of the first 12 this season. And in NASCAR’s top three divisions, the drivers in the first four rows have won 31 times at Dover.
That makes it awfully hard to bet against the clear favorites who have proven track records of success here.
And yet, in this most unpredictable of seasons, there’s always the chance that another first-time winner could step up. But it just isn’t very likely.
Now that Sprint Cup qualifying and three practices are in the books, here’s how the favorites shake up.
JIMMIE JOHNSON — OK, this isn’t exactly going out on a limb. Johnson has won more than any Cup driver in history here — eight victories — qualified fourth on Friday and during Happy Hour was fastest over a single lap and second-fast in 10-consecutive lap averages. If he doesn’t make a mistake — or doesn’t get caught in someone else’s mistake — he should win.
KYLE BUSCH — Friday at Dover, Busch was fastest in the opening round of practice, qualified on the outside of Row 1 for the Cup race and then utterly drubbed the field to win his fourth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in as many starts this season. Then he dominated the field to win Saturday’s Nationwide race. The younger Busch brother is wicked fast here in whatever he drives and should be really good again on Sunday, with the added motivation of trying to win another triple.
BRAD KESELOWSKI — Starting from the pole — and getting the coveted final pit stall as a result — ought to be a tremendous help for the 2012 champion. The challenge for Keselowski will be to run as well in the race as he did in qualifying. Then again, he was first in Saturday morning’s opening practice and then second in Happy Hour.
KEVIN HARVICK — The rub against Harvick is that he’s never won a race at Dover before, not even in a Nationwide car or a truck. Still, Harvick has been fast all weekend — all year, really — and is definitely a threat to win on Sunday. Key takeaway: he was fastest in 10-consecutive-lap averages in both Saturday practices. And something else worth noting, here: Harvick has led 19.82 percent of all laps run this year. Second is Jimmie Johnson at 15.55 percent.
DENNY HAMLIN — Quietly, Hamlin has put together a solid weekend, qualifying seventh and running fourth in Happy Hour, both in single-lap speed and 10-consecutive-lap average. Don’t count him out.