Tuesday, May 28, 2013

2013 FedEx 400 Dover Storylines

Jimmie Johnson going for eighth Dover win on Sunday
Crossed flags coming up. Dover International Speedway and Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks mark race No. 13 and the mid-point of the regular season. A year ago, nine of the top-10 ranked drivers leaving “The Monster Mile” wound up punching their tickets into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

Jimmie Johnson, the current standings leader, won last spring’s Dover race – his record-matching seventh. One more win breaks a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.

Brad Keselowski’s victory in Dover’s fall race was a springboard to his 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. The champ’s wheels are wobbling a bit after his 36th-place Coca-Cola 600 finish, Keselowski’s first DNF since the 2012 Daytona 500. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Key Penske personnel, including the No. 2 Ford’s crew chief Paul Wolfe, will return from their parts infraction suspensions at Dover.

Could this be the end of Richard Childress Racing’s near two-decade championship drought? Kevin Harvick won Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was the second of the season for the No. 29 RCR Chevrolet. Both Harvick and teammate Paul Menard rank among the current top 10 in points.

Three former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions – Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart – hold Chase Wild Card eligibility among the top 20 but each has yet to find either victory or consistency in 2013.

The Denny Hamlin Wild Card Watch rolls on with the Virginian – fourth at Charlotte – reducing his top 20 deficit to 53 points.

Another race track. Another record in sight. Kyle Busch became Charlotte Motor Speedway’s all-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner last weekend. Winner of six of the year’s nine races, Busch can accomplish the same feat in Saturday’s 5 Hour Energy 200 at Dover where he shares the three-victory record with Todd Bodine and Carl Edwards.

JR Motorsports’ Regan Smith continues to head NASCAR Nationwide Series standings by 28 points over former leader Sam Hornish Jr. Smith, however, has yet to finish among the top 15 at Dover.

Two drivers – leader Matt Crafton and reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher – reach career milestones in Friday’s Lucas Oil 200. Crafton will start his 300th consecutive race while fifth-ranked Buescher marks start No. 100.

Rookie and first-time winners dot the NCWTS record book at Dover where there have been 12 different winners in the track’s 13 races. Kyle Busch is the series’ only two-time winner.


Dover’s Sprint Race Ends First Half Of Regular Campaign
Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway marks the halfway point of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. When the checkered flag falls on the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks just 13 races remain until the lineup for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ is set. A year ago, nine of the top 10 in points leaving Dover qualified for the Chase. Only Kyle Busch (ninth) missed the post season.

Johnson Bids To Unseat Legends As Dover ‘s All-Time Winner
Another record is in defending Dover spring winner Jimmie Johnson’s sights. Last year’s victory was Johnson’s seventh – matching NASCAR Hall of Fame members Bobby Allison and Richard Petty atop the Dover all-time win list. Johnson has led laps in 11 consecutive starts at Dover, eight times in double figures. The current NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader has won the track’s spring race three times and swept both races in 2009.

Penske Personnel’s Return May Aid Wobbling Keselowski
A victory at Dover last September was crucial to Brad Keselowski’s championship run. Right now, Keselowski could use some momentum. His 36th-place finish in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marked the driver’s first failure to finish since the 2012 Daytona 500. Worse, it dropped the still winless Keselowski to 10th in points. The good news is that the Charlotte race marked the conclusion of crew chief Paul Wolfe and other members of Penske Racing’s parts infraction suspension.

Charging Harvick, Steady Menard Work To End RCR Drought
Richard Childress Racing hasn’t celebrated a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since Dale Earnhardt won his seventh trophy in 1994. Nineteen seasons later, the drought could be nearing an end. Kevin Harvick’s Coca-Cola 600 victory – the Californian’s second win of 2013 – makes the No. 29 RCR Chevrolet a solid Chase contender in the driver’s final season with Childress. Harvick, seventh in the standings, isn’t RCR’s only championship hopeful. Teammate Paul Menard, who recently extended his contract with Childress, ranks eighth. Each seeks his first win at Dover where RCR’s last victory came in the fall of 2006 by teammate Jeff Burton.

Busch’s Championship Bid Slowed By Inconsistency
It’s been chicken or feathers for Kyle Busch so far in 2013: two victories and three DNFs. Engine failure claimed Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Charlotte after leading 65 laps – the eighth time in 12 races Busch has headed the field. It dropped Busch out of the top 10 (11th), although his wins give him a solid Chase Wild Card fall back. Busch is a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Dover winner (spring 2010; fall 2011).

Stewart, Hamlin Clawing Toward Chase Wild Card Eligibility
Neither Tony Stewart nor Denny Hamlin won the Coca-Cola 600 but it was mission accomplished for both. Stewart finished seventh, his best performance of the season and reached 20th in the standings and Wild Card eligibility. Hamlin won the Coors Light Pole, finished fourth and closed to within 53 points of the top 20. Stewart holds two Dover wins but Hamlin has struggled at “The Monster Mile” – eight finishes outside the top 15 in 14 starts. Hamlin’s best Dover finishes are a pair of fourths.

Champions Gordon, Busch Look To Replay Dover Fortunes
Tony Stewart isn’t the only previous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion outside the top 10. Jeff Gordon is 16th; Kurt Busch 18th. Gordon, like Keselowski, crashed out of the Coca-Cola 600 while Busch finished third – possibly losing victory when the battery in his No. 79 Furniture Row Chevrolet failed while leading. Like his younger brother Kyle, Busch’s 2013 finishes have been all over the map – three top fives offset by five finishes of 30th or worse. Gordon’s luck has been no better – a pair of thirds and five finishes 20th or worse. Gordon has four Dover victories; Busch one.

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