Friday, June 1, 2012

Dover Practice Notes: Hendrick Cars Look Strong Led by Jeff Gordon

Hendrick cars look strong this week led by Gordon (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Aric Amirola laid down the fastest lap in Friday’s final of two practice sessions at Dover International Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s FedEx 400. The fast lap of 157.205 mph came while Almirola was in qualifying-trim in the early moments. Should Almirola set the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying it would be his second straight race sitting on the pole.

Jeff Gordon found some speed (156.958) early in the session while in qualifying trim, good enough for second fastest. Gordon has been good at Dover over the last decade with a 14.8 average finish, but doesn’t have any wins over that span. All of Gordon’s four Dover wins came prior to the 2002 season, including a stretch of winning three straight from 1995-96.

Gordon’s seventh-place finish at Charlotte last week, along with good average speeds today might suggest a turning point in his season. Of all drivers that ran at least 40 laps, no one had a faster average speed (152.266).

A big difference from the final 90-minute session compared to the first one earlier was that 27 drivers made runs of 10-consecutive laps. Only three drivers attempted 10 straight laps earlier.

The best 10-consecutive lap average was set early in the session by Mark Martin, yet he only had the 29th fastest single lap overall. Martin Truex Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Gordon and Greg Biffle were all next quickest. Almirola was also fast in this category while in race trim near the end of his practice.

The most laps of the session were run by Biffle with 81. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman also got 75 laps in.

The Hendrick cars all look collectively strong, most notably Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who all finished within the top-4 fastest speeds in the final session. Kasey Kahne finished with the 16th fastest lap.

Top-5 Dover Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Aric Almirola 157.205 mph
2) Jeff Gordon 156.958
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 155.966
4) Jimmie Johnson 155.952
5) Scott Speed 154.772

Dover Practice 2 Speeds

Mark Martin Fastest in First Session 

By Micah Roberts

Mark Martin led the way with the fastest lap in Friday’s first of two practice sessions at Dover International Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s FedEx 400. The fast lap of 159.200 mph came on the last lap of the 21 ran by Martin during the 85-minute session, which was delayed by about five minutes due to rain.

Mark Martin fastest on his final lap ran in practice Friday morning (Getty) 
Martin is a four-time winner at Dover -- the last coming in 2004 -- and has showed a tremendous amount of consistency over the last decade on the track that includes two runner-up finishes in his last five starts.

Denny Hamlin, with the FedEx sponsor on his side-panel, put down the second fastest (158.926) early in the session on his first lap run and was the fastest until Martin’s final run. Hamlin has a 20.7 average finish over his career at Dover with a best of fourth-place -- which he has accomplished twice, the last coming in the spring of 2010.

Martin Truex Jr. was third fastest (158.527) capturing his top speed on the final of his 28 laps run. The speed obtained is encouraging for Truex Jr. because Dover is the one place he always hopes to run well at. With the track being only 129 miles from his hometown of Mayetta, NJ, he’ll have hundreds of friends and family in attendance for Sunday’s race. It’s also the site of his only career Cup win.

Rounding out the top-5 speeds were two former multiple Dover race winners, Kyle Busch (158.444) and Greg Biffle (158.367). Busch won in 2008 and 2010 and has compiled a 13.3 average finish continuing his trend of always running well on any concrete surface in any series. Busch has finished no worse than 11th since the April 14th event at Texas and is on a run of four straight top-5 finishes and five straight top-10’s.

Biffle hasn’t had a top-5 at Dover since finishing third in 2009, but it’s apparent by his teams’ performance that he may get to a plateau they once were at Dover. From 2005-2009, Biffle accumulated two wins, six top-5’s and eight top-10’s in a span of nine races.

Six-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson finished with 13th fastest lap while last years spring winner, Matt Kenseth, was 12th quickest.

Only three drivers ran at least 10-consecutive laps with Paul Menard topping the list with the fastest average. The small amount of consecutive laps run is usually an indicator that most of the teams were searching for individual lap speeds for qualifying. However, the amount of laps run by most of the teams also suggest that there were plenty of mock-race runs as well. Jeff Gordon ran the most laps (48) of the session as the No. 24 team continues to search for answers.

These practice schedules have to be frustrating for all the teams. By having qualifying as their last time on the track, it makes the teams work a lot harder in the two practice sessions and do too many change-overs into a qualifying set-up that is only needed for one lap.

While it’s always nice to start up front, this process de-values qualifying because there is no points gained from starting up front as opposed to being their best in race conditions where all the points are gained on race day. On a normal practice schedule where the team uses the first practice in qualifying trim, then qualifies, they have the final two practices to get their race set-up right and are ready for race day with little altering needed.

In a schedule like we have this week at Dover, a team may get their perfect set-up down, but then have to change it all over for a qualifying set-up. After that one measly lap is run, they have to break it all down again and hope they can recreate what they had the day prior when their set-up was perfect.

Expect more 10 lap averages to be available in Friday’s final 90-minute session set to begin at 2:45 pm (ET). Saturday’s qualifying begins at 12:10 pm (ET).

Top-5 Dover Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Mark Martin 159.200 mph
2) Denny Hamlin 158.926
3) Martin Truex Jr. 158.527
4) Kyle Busch 158.444
5) Greg Biffle 158.367

Dover Practice 1 Speeds

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