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Dover 400 Preview

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After two weeks of sleeping on their own pillows in Charlotte, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams hit the road again as they travel to Dover, Delaware for this weekend’s FedEx 400 which when over will be the end of the first-half of the regular season.

With Carl Edwards winning last week’s Coca-Cola 600, there are now nine drivers with wins which should be good enough to get them into the Chase when the lineup is set after race No. 26 at Richmond. That means there are seven Chase positions available with 14 races to go until the playoff field is set.

This is the second season of the current Chase format and you can see that the drivers are applying several different strategies. For the drivers with wins already they’re comfortable and trying to go all out for another win. Their crews are trying radical strategies to make the car faster to get wins and if they fail, so what, they’re making the Chase anyway. When Jimmie Johnson spun out and crashed into the inside wall Sunday night to finish 40th, he just shrugged his shoulders and said it was no big deal. Everyone who has a win right now has that luxury to be relaxed for the next 14 weeks because they’re in.

However, it’s those winless drivers that are stressing a little more right now. They know it’s hard enough to beat the likes of Kevin Harvick and Johnson on a weekly basis, so while they want to win, they also have to try and get as many points as possible to for the chance that a few drivers will still gain entry into the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. has the second most points in the series, but is in 10th position for the Chase because of no wins. He should get in regardless of not winning, but then you have others that have been up and down like Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne that are still winless. Jamie McMurray is having a great year so far in 11th-place, but isn't comfortable. Ryan Newman, Aric Alimirola and Paul Menard sit 14th-16th in points, but are no where near being comfortable. The top four drivers outside looking in are separated by 24 points -- Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger.

Within the next 14 races, there are a couple of races that could serve as wild cards for smaller teams like last season when Allmendinger won on the road course at Watkins Glen and Almirola won at Daytona. Neither of those drivers would have made the Chase without those wins. However, this week’s race at Dover doesn’t fit that criteria because it is usually won by an elite team, and in most cases, the most elite of all, Jimmie Johnson.

In 29 career Dover starts, Johnson has won a track-record nine times on the high-banked 1-mile concrete paperclip. The track was built in 1969 and got to witness all the greats like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt, but it’s Johnson who stands alone as the best all-time. He’s won three of the past six Dover races, including this race last season. It’s because of that dominance that he should be considered the favorite this week and supplant Harvick who has held that that status at every non-plate track.

Gordon has to be thrilled to see Dover because he won there in the fall for the fifth time in his career. In 44 career starts, he’s had an 11.4 average finish. He should be feeling some confidence this week because of finishing third at Bristol in April which was his best finish of the year. Although Bristol’s layout is only a half-mile, there are similarities to Dover because of the banking and concrete and past results have shown those who have done well on one seem to have success on the other.

The Bristol winner was Matt Kenseth and he should be expected to run well on Sunday going for his third Dover win. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has things figured out big time now with a win in the All-Star Race and also in the Coca-Cola 600. Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and Edwards all have wins now and JGR is looking for another one to try and get Kyle Busch in the Chase. Even though Busch missed the first 11 races of the season, NASCAR gave him an exception that if he wins a race and is within the top-30 in points, he can participate in the Chase. The No. 18 looked very fast last week and Dover has traditionally been a place Busch fares well at with two wins over his career.

Brad Keselowski won at Dover in 2012 and was runner-up in both races last season, and he runs just at well at Bristol over his career showing another correlation. His teammate, Joey Logano, has six straight top-10 finishes going at Dover, including fourth-place last fall. Both drivers should be fighting for a top-five finish this week.

On the other side of things, we have Harvick who has never won at Dover in 28 starts. Last season while in similar form to how he’s running this year, Harvick managed very average finishes of 13th and 17th between the two Dover races. He did lead 184 laps at Bristol earlier this year, but finished 38th. You never want to cross Harvick off your list of candidates to win, but this is a track where you might be okay leaving him off a betting equation.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
2) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)
3) #19 Carl Edwards (14/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (6/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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