AAA 400 Preview
May 10, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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We've blazed through almost every type of track there is over the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup season, with the exception of a road course and a one-mile high banked concrete oval, so let's check off that concrete track this week, a race at Dover that comes a few weeks earlier than it did last season.
Sunday's AAA 400 will be the first race of the season in the northeast after the series has run multiple times in the west, mid-west and south.
The main story coming into the race is no one being hotter in the series than Kyle Busch. The Las Vegas native just won his series leading third race of the season Saturday, his first ever at Kansas Speedway, which was also his series leading ninth top-five finish in 11 races.
After watching the first 11 races last season sitting in his rocking chair at home due to breaking a leg in the season opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona, he grew up real fast as a driver. He understood that the series was moving along just fine without him. Coupled with experiencing the birth of his first child at the same time, he's learned to not be so 'Rowdy" anymore and that adjusted temperament helped him win the first Sprint Cup title of his career and he's been on cruise control ever since.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that he also drives for Joe Gibbs Racing which is producing great cars for not only for Busch, but also Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth while providing equipment for Martin Truex Jr. Edwards' five top-fives is tied with Kevin Harvick for second most in the series and his two wins are tied with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for second most. Kenseth, who has had awful luck this season despite great cars, finally got his first top-five of the season at Kansas.
While the JGR drivers all figure to perform well on Dover's 'Monster Mile', the undisputed King of Dover and favorite to win is Johnson.
Last May, Johnson won for a track-record 10th time at Dover which made him the fifth driver in Cup history to win 10 times at a single track joining Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. In 28 starts, he has 15 top-five finishes, a ninth-place average finish and a series-best 2,999 laps led. At all phases of his career, Dover has been a consistent winner for him. He's currently on a run of winning three of the past five there.
Although Johnson is best at Dover, there was one driver that was better than him last season. Harvick finished second behind Johnson last May and then won in the fall during the Chase where he led 355 of the 400 laps. It was his first win in 30 starts on the track.
Busch has two Dover wins, but none since 2010. In 22 starts, he's got 14 top-10s and has led 1,037 laps. He finished second to Harvick last fall. The case to be made for him this week to win lies mostly with momentum, but also the new low downforce package which has never been used at Dover. The Gibbs drivers have it figured out and Kyle has shown he is a big momentum guy no matter the type of track. He won four of five during a stretch in July and won two straight to start April.
This is technically Mayetta, NJ native Martin Truex Jr's home track, and it was the site of his first career win in 2007. He's only won two races since, but he's probably never had a car set-up so perfectly week-to-week like this season. Last week he led 172 of the 267 laps at Kansas, but settled for 14th. He's been 11th or better in his past four Dover starts.
Edwards' only Dover win came in 2007, a time when he went on a run of finishing in the top-five in eight of 13 starts. He hasn't cracked the top-five since then with finishes of 11th or worse in his last six. The reason you might want to support Edwards this week is because of leading 276 of 500 laps in a win at Bristol's half-mile concrete layout last month. The speeds are way faster at Dover, but the banking is similar which makes the required set-up similar.
"I really think the way all of our JGR Toyotas have been running, and the way that Martin Truex, Jr. has been running, it’s going to be a really fun weekend," said Edwards. "I think we’re going to have to beat our teammates to win the race. So I look forward to going to Dover. The race itself is a really tough one. You have to stay focused the entire time because of the high speeds in the corners and the difficulty of that racetrack. It’s a pretty intense four hundred laps. It’s a really fun place to win."
I like the Bristol angle and that Edwards has won two of the past four races on the schedule.
We haven't seen a decent payout at over 15/1 odds at Dover since Truex, but there are two drivers that have shown consistency in recent years that will fetch high odds. Kyle Larson (30/1) has a 7.2 average finish over four starts, including a best of third in this race last year. Aric Almirola (100/1) was fifth in both races last year. Kasey Kahne (25/1) was fourth and sixth between the two 2016 races.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #19 Carl Edwards (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (15/1)