Nascar At Dover: The Taming Of The … Monster (Mile)

Rusty Norman

Last week NASCAR faced the “The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame” and this week NASCAR drivers and teams face the “Monster Mile” at Dover, Delaware. Will it be a weekend of disappointment and frustration or will it be one of elation and a trip to Victory Lane for someone who has figured out how to tame the “Monster”?

One thing about “the Monster” is things happen fast and without warning; that’s just the nature of “the beast” and so far, Sunday’s Autism Speaks 400 looks to be no different.

The concrete track at the Monster Mile is one of the tougher tracks Nascar teams face every year. It isn’t just because of its size, it’s surface or its banking, no, not at all. It is because of all three and how narrow the racing surface is. Because it is what many call a self-cleaning track, when someone loses it and gets into the outside wall, they usually end up heading to the inside and generally taking one or more cars with them. Treacherous is probably a good word to describe racing at Dover and anyone that has any experience racing there at all knows exactly what that means.

From this fan’s view, Dover is a track that is hard to judge what will happen. No matter what the qualifying times say, they aren’t necessarily a good judge of how the race will go. Track position will be key to staying up front once someone gets there so that means pit location will be important when it comes down to pit stops. Now that I’ve said that, is there really anyplace that NASCAR Cup races that the same isn’t true? With the double file re-starts, green-white-checkered finishes and the closeness of the competition in Cup, track position has become even more important than in the past and especially at the end when those late race cautions come out.

One thing that is also becoming more noticeable as the teams try to out-fox each other with strategy on those late race pit stops is which line they are in for the double-file re-starts. If the line they are in isn’t moving for one reason or another, it doesn’t matter how good a car they have, they’re not going anywhere until the line they’re in moves or until the driver can get in the one that is moving.

Another thing that has proven out over several races this season is that not only does a driver have to have a fast car consistently throughout the race, but he also has to have a car that is fast in those late “trophy dashes” for the win in those double file green-white-checkered extensions of the race. (Of course, we all know none of these things add any pressure onto the shoulders of the crew chief… yeah, right…)

Well, I guess I should at least mention the ones I think are going to be at, or near, the top of the order when it comes time for the checkered flag to drop. I have to admit, the Monster Mile is one of the harder tracks for this fan to choose top finishers for than most of the ones NASCAR visits. Most of that is because of the unpredictability of what might happen to some of the stronger contenders simply from being in the right place at the wrong time. Hardly ever does someone make a little mistake that remains a little problem. This is one track that usually has more than one incident involving more than one car having just a blown tire or a little brush with the wall. More often than not, at least one is taken along with the car having the problem and usually more.  That doesn’t mean their day is always finished but it generally means their being in contention for the win is over, (although stranger things have happened and they have happened at this track.)

The obvious choices to win would include Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr and some dark horses like Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth if you only consider the qualifying and best practice times. This is one week in particular I don’t think all of that amounts to a hill of beans, (although the JGR teams have been on a hot streak lately.)

It is just my opinion, but it appeared to me some of the teams weren’t showing all they had and were preparing for the longer green flag runs and maintaining consistency as best they could during the practice sessions. That is where the late race cautions and double file re-starts will take over. It will all depend on track position and tire strategy on that final pit call from the crew chief on the box.

There is one other thing that hasn’t been mentioned but it does have to be considered. Looking at the truck race, it appeared there was some fuel strategy that played into the final mix. Is it possible that fuel mileage could play into the mix should the race go a certain way after the last “scheduled” pit stop? You bet it’s possible… I don’t expect it to happen, but, it very well could.

When it comes down to the final laps, I think many will be surprised at who will be near the front ready to pounce and take the win. So, if I mention names like Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann or Jeff Gordon would any of you be surprised? If so, then go ahead and pick one of these because it is this fan’s opinion it will be one of these guys ending up in Victory Lane…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May15, 2010 – all rights reserved

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