Friday, May 13, 2011

Dover Race Preview: Bristol a Good Barometer For Dover

By Micah Roberts

Smith's win needs to be put into perspective
This weeks race at Dover has the makings of being a real grudge match with feuds galore going on in NASCAR following last weeks incidents at Darlington. Before we get into that, though, we have to appreciate the magnitude of what Regan Smith did in wining his first career race.

Smith comes from a single car team, something very rare in today’s NASCAR, an under funded team who is the only Cup series team to not run out of Charlotte. Smith’s team operates out of Denver, yet they have been competitive on a regular basis, at least to the standards set by all the other under funded teams, most of whom start and park.

His chances were so slim that the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book offered 500-to-1 odds on him to win the race, a price they regularly post on him for most non-restrictor plate races. The odds suggest that he had no shot at winning, and he in reality, he really didn’t, but one lucky bettor took a crack at it with a $5 wager.

The 500-to-1 odds payout is the largest payout ever in NASCAR, or any auto racing wagering in Las Vegas history. We’ve seen a couple pay out at 100-to-1, such as Trevor Bayne in this years Daytona 500, but never 500-to-1. The real surprise is that the win came on one of the toughest tracks on tour, the track that’s “Too Tough to Tame”, the “Lady in Black”, a track’s winners circle that is usually reserved for one the multi-car millionaire club teams.

Even as he had the lead to start the green-white-checker finish, no one thought he could hold off Carl Edwards, one of the favorites to win who had fresher tires. Regan Smith’s win might be one for the ages, up there with all the greatest upsets of all time in NASCAR because of the track and it’s requirements to tame. Trevor Bayne’s win at Daytona affected more people on the upset meter because it was the Daytona 500, but Smith’s win should rank higher just because everyone is pretty equal in the plate races.

The best part of the Regan Smith story may be that he won it on the eve of Mother’s day and he was one of the only drivers whose Mom wasn’t present at the race. His Mother, Lee Smith, was in Alabama as part of a relief effort to help hurt or displaced animals.

Harvick won't forget this. Payback? Maybe not this week..
After the race was over, the winning Darlington driver could barely speak. The emotion of how proud he was to win the race for her and recognize that his Mom was at a place she needed to be more than the race was the stuff that not even Hollywood can write to jerk a tear.

Unfortunately, this race might be more remembered for what happen between two of the series biggest stars at the end of the race. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick got into it after Busch punted Harvick, a little payback from Homestead last year and also from Harvick nipping at his tail a lap earlier. Harvick then tried to bully Busch as if Harvick is the only driver who can be the enforcer in the series.

That whole episode adds another dimension to the week’s storylines at Dover where we already had a nice brew going with Ryan Newman and Juan Montoya. But those two going at it is like trying to get excited for an Eric Roberts and Luke Perry Lifetime movie. Busch and Harvick bring the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt $100 million feature movie type of star appeal to the show. NASCAR won’t say it, but they have to love the “boys having at it” approach with their two most edgy personalities.

To get started with the handicapping at Dover, you’ll need to look at some recent past history at the track and then you can also look at what happened at Bristol in March. Bristol is a half-mile smaller than Dover, but the new configuration of the track makes it very similar to Dover, not to mention the concrete surface. Many teams who had success at Bristol this year should do the same at Dover this week.

Past history shows us that Jimmie Johnson has won three out of the last four races and has six Dover wins in 18 career starts. Johnson happened to finish third at Bristol making him a great candidate to win again. Right now Johnson is just cruising through the motions of his weekly routine and sits second in points on his quest to win his sixth straight championship. This week Johnson will be using his eighth-place Texas chassis.

Carl Edwards, the current points leader, owns a track best average finish coming in at a 7.7 clip over 13 races, which also includes a 2007 win. Edwards also managed to be runner-up at Bristol in March, further validating his nickname of “Concrete Carl”. This week Edwards will be using his sixth-place Fontana car.

Kyle Busch won the Bristol race, his third spring win in a row there, and is also a two-time winner at Dover. He won this race last year and also in 2008. It’s not likely he’ll be using his winning Bristol car this Sunday because he used it last week at Darlington, but chances are his team will have a car equally set up well to perform to his liking.

Newman has a strong car set for Sunday.
Ryan Newman is a three-time winner at Dover, but the last came in 2004 when it was his third win in six starts there. However, he has been able to maintain excellence through years with consistent finishes. He hasn’t finished worse than 13th in his last two years with his new team and still maintains a 10.3 average finish through 18 starts over his career. He’s coming off a great run at Darlington and finished 10th at Bristol. He's also using a car this week that has finished out of the top-10 only twice in 10 starts.

Matt Kenseth calls Dover his favorite track and you can look at the stats and see why. He won in 2006 and since then he's gone on a tear with six top-five finishes in his last eight starts. He'll be using a brand new chassis this week as he tries to get his second career win there. It can be hit or miss using a new car, but based on the high odds, I'm taking a chance with him and hoping the car will be set to the standards he's used to at Dover.

Kevin Harvick may be a driver to keep a close eye on due to the car he's bringing this week. Although Harvick hasn't been at his best at Dover over the years -- two top-fives in 20 starts -- he is bringing the same car that won at Fontana and finished second at Las Vegas.

Childress drivers haven't fared so well at Dover since the passing of Dale Earnhardt, who won three times there for RCR. Jeff Burton claims the only win for the team there since 1993, a 2006 fall win. However, last year Burton came close twice with runner-up finishes in both races.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
3) #99 Carl Edwards (6/1)
4) #39 Ryan Newman (30/1)
5) #17 Matt Kenseth (20/1)

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