While on one hand, Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win was shocking, on the other hand it really wasn’t. After all, Bayne pulled off his upset victory on a restrictor-plate track while doing the “two-car tango.” Fantasy owners have come to expect a certain level of unpredictability at Daytona and Talladega.
What came last week at Darlington was truly a shock. Regan Smith and Furniture Row Racing aren’t supposed to win a prestigious race like the Showtime Southern 500 at one of the series’ most challenging tracks, yet they did. And fantasy owners, who picked Smith, got the ultimate payoff.
Fantasy seasons aren’t won and lost with top-tier drivers, but often with bottom-tier drivers. For example, there isn’t much of a point differential between Jeff Gordon finishing first and Kyle Busch finishing fifth. However, if Smith wins and David Ragan finishes 32nd, that is where the points can be made.
Now the schedule shifts to another tough track on drivers and equipment: Dover. Chances are we won’t see an upset like last week because of the dominance of a few of NASCAR’s top-tier drivers.
Jimmie Johnson (six career wins at Dover) has won three of the last four Sprint Cup races in Delaware. If it hadn’t been for an uncharacteristic speeding penalty in last spring’s race, we easily could be referring to the five-time champ as the four-time defending champ at Dover. Johnson’s mastery of the 1-mile facility has been unmatched. In his last four starts, he has led 985 laps. His next closest competitor, Kyle Busch, has led 177 laps in those races. Enough said.
While Johnson has a leg up on the rest of the field heading into the weekend, Carl Edwards has been pretty impressive at Dover also. He is yet to finish outside the top 20 in 13 career starts there and has the best average finish (7.69) of all active drivers. Edwards also has six top-five finishes. This season, the series points leader seems to be a pretty reliable pick just about everywhere (eight top 10s in 10 races), and that should remain true this weekend.
No driver has more momentum on their side than Kasey Kahne. He finished third at Richmond and was fourth at Darlington after leading the most laps. On paper, Kahne doesn’t look like a great pick at Dover. He has just six top 10s in 14 starts, however, two of those top 10s are in his last four starts at the track, and along with momentum, Kahne has confidence on his side heading into this weekend. He should be a top mid-tier driver for the third consecutive week.
Jeff Burton is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Kahne. Burton was second in both Dover races in 2010 and has 15 top-10 finishes at the track, but Burton has established no momentum in 2011. Through 10 races, he is 24th in the standings and has yet to record a top-10 finish. Burton is going to have his best chance to get his season turned around on Sunday.
Paul Menard was seventh at Dover last fall and should be strong again this year. The Richard Childress Racing driver has fizzled after a hot start with 37th and 22nd-place finishes in the last two races. Expect Menard to bounce back this weekend.
Brad Keselowski was pleased to leave Darlington with a third-place finish after using some late-race strategy, but his words after the race were telling of where Penske Racing is at right now compared to the competition.
“I’m proud of the result,” Keselowski said. “Not really how we got it, but proud of the result. Still we’ve got a long ways to go to be fast and to earn it.”
Keselowski and teammate Kurt Busch have struggled to run in the top half of the field as of late. After starting the season with four consecutive top-10 finishes, Kurt Busch’s best finish in the last three races is 18th. His track record at Dover isn’t anything spectacular either with seven top 10s in 21 starts. Stay away from the Penske drivers at the Monster Mile.
Juan Pablo Montoya has been a solid mid-level driver at most tracks this season, but don’t start him at Dover. Montoya has just two top 10s in eight starts. What is more alarming are his four finishes outside the top 20. Add in a brewing rivalry with Ryan Newman that could be re-triggered at any time and Montoya is not a safe pick this weekend.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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