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Who's going to smile at The Monster Mile?

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, May 12, 2011

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Jimmie Johnson smiled last year at The Monster Mile
The elite of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be taking the concrete challenge this Sunday when 43 starters takes the green flag for the Fed Ex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at the Dover International Speedway, aka "the Monster Mile." This one mile concrete oval may be regarded as an intermediate sized speedway, but it often displays the characteristics of short track racing. By the time this 400 mile automotive gauntlet is over, it will be interesting to see which driver gets to smile at the Monster Mile.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Okay, let's get to it. We all know what the number one story line is going to be during the Dover weekend. It will be, of course, the subject of driver feuds. The Kevin Harvick versus Kyle Busch situation from the Darlington and the Juan Pablo Montoya versus Ryan Newman dust up from Richmond has been in the forefront of the NASCAR Sprint Cup news since last Friday.

Is anyone expecting round two from any member of this quartet this Sunday in Dover? Yes, it's likely that there are some who are expecting it and considerable more who would relish the sight of retaliation. Somehow I would be very surprised if some on purpose track altercation did occur among these four drivers. It's just too early. All four of them are smart enough to realize that NASCAR officials will have extra pairs of binoculars on them during the Dover race.

However there is one area that could benefit from these so called feuds. That would be the numbers associated with next Sunday's race. It's quite possible that the element of fan anticipation could create a spike in the television ratings and even sell some extra tickets.

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We will naturally be monitoring the Sprint Cup championship points profile following Sunday's race at Dover. Going into the race Carl Edwards has a 23 point lead over Jimmie Johnson.

However, there is another area regarding points that warrants some extra scrutiny: the NASCAR owner's points. The official policy states that any team within the top 35 in the owner's points is automatically guaranteed a starting berth in the next race. That's huge for owners trying to maintain solid business relationships with current sponsors or trying to entice new sponsor opportunity.

Going into Sunday's race, owner/driver Robby Gordon currently holds down the 35th position. It's a four point advantage over Wood Brothers Racing and driver Trevor Bayne. That will of course change because the Wood Brothers are not running a full Sprint Cup schedule this year and Dover isn't on their list of races.

Third in the owner's standings is the Kevin Buckler led TRG group with driver Andy Lally. That's the driver that Robby Gordon will be searching his rear view mirror for. The team is 37th in the owner's points but only 12 markers out of 35th.

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Congratulations to five time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson for being named America's Most Influential Athlete. This honor was based on a fan poll conducted by E-Poll Market Research and Nielsen Media Research.

In their research it was determined that NASCAR racing is enjoying a resurgence that has led to higher television ratings which, in turn, has increased a public awareness of the drivers. Also a factor here is the competitive nature, and multiple winners, we've seen from Sprint Cup racing so far this year.

Hendrick Motorsports was a huge factor in the results of this poll. Hendrick drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon were ranked third and eighth respectively.

In yet another unique honor the state of Delaware has proclaimed May 15th as “Jimmie Johnson Day. This honor was the result of a joint resolution by the state's House of Representatives and the State Senate. The resolution lauds Johnson for his athletic achievements, especially his five consecutive NASCAR championships, and also cites his dedication to community service especially through the work of his Jimmie Johnson Foundation.

This is quite an honor for Johnson especially in lieu of the fact that he's from California, resides in North Carolina and only visits Delaware twice a year.

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Congratulations goes out this week to the NASCAR Hall Of Fame who celebrated its first birthday on May 11th. In their first year of operation the hall has welcomed over 270,000 visitors making it the second most visited sports museum in the country. On the special day, the Hall Of Fame offered special $5 admission rates with $1 of that being donated to the American Red Cross and their relief efforts for recent tornado victims.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch sharing the top of their weekly survey at 5 to 1 odds. Currently second in the championship standings, Johnson has outstanding numbers at Dover. He leads all active drivers with six wins there, including the most previous Dover race last September, along with eight top five finishes and 12 top tens. He also has an excellent 9.7 average finish ratio.

Kyle Busch is a two time Dover winner, including a win this time last year, along with six top fives, seven top tens and a finish ratio of 14.7. Currently third in the points, this driver is always a threat to find victory lane in any race he enters.

At 7 to 1 odds is "Concrete" Carl Edwards so named because he has a history of success at tracks with concrete surfaces. The current Sprint Cup points leader also has some very impressive stats at Dover as well. He's a former race winner with six top fives, nine top tens and a very healthy finish ratio of 7.7. Anyone of these three drivers would make excellent wager considerations.

At 8 to 1 is Denny Hamlin. Following a somewhat shaky start to the season, this team is currently 16th in the standings and appears to be on the cusp of a charge to the top ten. However, Dover isn't exactly one of Hamlin's strongest tracks. He's still looking for his first trip to the Dover victory lane and only has two top five finishes and four top tens there. Also his finish ratio of 21.4 indicates Dover has been a roller coaster ride for the driver.

At 11 to 1 odds you will find the duo of Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Stewart is currently seventh in the points and has some strong numbers at this race track including two wins, 10 top fives, 15 top tens and a finish ratio of 11.8.

On the other hand, Harvick's Dover numbers are somewhat dubious. He's still looking for his first win there. He does, however, have some strong finishes there with two top fives and seven top tens. But the finish ratio, 17.3, indicates Dover is not one of his better race tracks.

The middle tier of this week's WSE rankings starts strong with Jeff Gordon at 12 to 1. This is actually a very good long shot consideration. Gordon has good numbers at Dover including four wins, 14 top fives, 21 top tens and a respectable finish ratio of 12.1. So, why the 12 to 1 rating with those track numbers? It's probably because of a recent tail spin that has seen Gordon fall to 17th in the points standings after spending the first several weeks well entrenched in the top ten. Dover would be a great opportunity for Gordon to get his program back on track.

Another strong long shot consideration is Greg Biffle at 14 to 1. Biffle seems to have overcome some early season setbacks and has worked his way back to 12th in the points. His Dover numbers are quite good with two wins, six top fives, ten top tens and a 11.0 finish ratio.

Also in the WSE's middle tier is Matt Kenseth, at 17 to 1, who is a former Dover winner with a 12.9 finish ratio. Ranked at 18 to 1 this week are drivers Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer with Dale Earnhardt Jr, another former race winner, behind them at 20 to 1. Also in the middle tier this week you will find Kasey Kahne at 22 to 1, former race winner Jeff Burton is ranked at 25 to 1 while Joey Logano comes in at 28 to 1.

Headlining the WSE's lower tier this week are drivers Ryan Newman and Mark Martin, at 30 to 1, and I must admit I find this a little perplexing. Newman, currently sixth in the points, has outstanding numbers at Dover with three wins, six top fives, 11 top tens and a finish ratio of 10.3.

Martin's Dover stats are equally impressive and includes four wins, 22 top fives, 30 top tens and a healthy ratio of 12.5. If you're the type to take a chance on long shots, then here are two opportunities worthy of consideration.

The WSE has a trio of drivers at 35 to 1 featuring Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team mates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray along with Brian Vickers. Concluding the list, at 50 to 1, are Michael Waltrip Racing team mates David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. The Truex ranking may be a reason to pause for reflection. The New Jersey native considers Dover to be his home track. He's had a lot of success there, in many racing formats, including his first ever Sprint Cup win.

Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races. However, if you find yourself with an extra "Benjamin" in your wallet that you don't mind losing, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin at 30 to 1 is very tempting.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Fed Ex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks 400 is 400 laps/400 miles around the Dover International Raceway's one mile concrete covered oval.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Nine of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams are outside of the top 35 in NASCAR's owner's points and will have to rely on qualifying speed to make Sunday's race.

The track opened in 1969 with the first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup race, won by Richard Petty, being held in July of that same year. Since that time there has been 82 Sprint Cup races at Dover that has sent 32 different winners to victory lane. Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's list with 31 wins.

In any Sprint Cup race, in this modern era, track position is always important and that applies to Dover. 13 of the speedway's 82 races have been won from the pole position, 50 have won from the top five starting berths while 17 winners started from inside of the top fen. The track qualifying record is held by Jeremy Mayfield, 161.522 MPH, set back in June of 2004.

The Monster Mile has 24 degrees of banking in its four corners. The straightaways measure 1,076 feet with nine degrees of banking. The track surface was converted to concrete back in 1995. The speedway presently has seating for 135,000 fans.

The pit stalls are narrow, measuring 15 x 32 feet, and that could provide some interesting moments during Sunday's race. The pit road speed is 35 MPH.

Weather could play a major role during the Dover weekend. The Friday forecast calls for partly sunny skies and 68 degrees during the day but there's a slight, 20 percent, chance of showers Friday evening. There's a 30 percent chance of rain, with highs of 69 degrees, on Saturday. But the bad news here is the 40 percent chance of rain and thunder storms expected to hit the Dover area on race day Sunday.

The Fed Ex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks will be broadcast live by Fox Sports beginning at 1230 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, May 18th, on SPEED beginning at 12 pm eastern.

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