Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 AAA 400 Practice Notes: Harvick has best chance at finally conquering Dover

Harvick is definitely the driver to beat Sunday at Dover
Kevin Harvick has never won on the high banks of Dover’s 1-mile concrete surface, but following Saturday’s final practice sessions, he’s staring at the best opportunity of his career to do so. He’s got the ideal combination of being fast on short and long runs while also having the benefit of the tracks all-time win leader, Jimmie Johnson, perhaps not being at his best.

Harvick will start from the pole in Sunday’s AAA 400 using the same chassis he used to win his first career Darlington race in April. Between Johnson hogging nine Dover wins over a career that runs almost simultaneously with Harvick, and Harvick never really having a car with Richard Childress Racing set up to win there, the stars and planets have never been aligned perfectly for Harvick to win. His best finish was second-place in 2012, of course finishing behind Johnson.

During Saturday’s early practice session, Harvick had the seventh fastest single lap. In the afternoon session, he had the fastest lap. The thing that separates him apart from everyone else this week is that in both sessions he had the fastest 10-consecutive lap averages. The Hendrick engine horsepower he’s using for Stewart-Haas Racing this season has put Harvick into several new situations this season where he is the driver to beat.

As for Johnson, who has won the past two Dover races, he still gets rated high just because of his obvious love for the track. He’s been the driver to beat at Dover since his rookie season (2002) when he swept both races. In the June race he was fastest during happy hour and had the second-best 10-consecutive lap average. This time around, Johnson had the eighth fastest lap and was eighth on the 10-consecutive lap chart.

The only reason we rate Johnson so high (No. 3) this week -- despite the practices -- is just because of his past. If there was one driver-crew chief combo that can make things better during a Dover race, it would be Johnson and Chad Knaus. At some point in the late stages of this race, Johnson will be heard from and his practices will be forgotten.

I liked what I saw out of all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, especially with Denny Hamlin who expects he’ll need a fifth-place finish or better to advance to the next round of the Chase. He’s outside looking in right now in the 13th position, and he’s never won at Dover, but he’ll start third and was fourth and third fastest, respectively, in each of Saturday’s practices.

Jamie McMurray is another Chevy driver sporting a Hendrick engine and we’ve see him be fast a quite a few different places this season, except he doesn’t have a win yet, or at least not in a points-paying race -- he did win the All-Star race at Charlotte. During happy hour he had the second-fastest average lap speeds, just behind Harvick. He doesn’t have any great history at Dover -- no top-5 finishes since being runner-up in 2006, but he’s got enough speed to make him worthy of a small wager at 20-to-1 odds or higher.

Kasey Kahne will be using his winning Atlanta chassis and he was third fastest in the 10-consecutive lap times during happy hour. Another driver who had a good final practice was Jeff Gordon, a four-time Dover winner, but none since 2001. He’s using his winning Kansas chassis this week.

Read More Here.....Top-10 Final Dover Ratings

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