Stock Car Challenge preview: Dover
Clint Bowyer's win at New Hampshire this past week proved that just about anything can happen at any time in the Nextel Cup Series. Although we can base many of our lineup recommendations and top choices on past history, there often will be surprises. This week's race at Dover is the perfect setting for more unpredictability.
Dover has been home to seven consecutive different race winners (dating back to 2004), the longest streak in the site's history. By that logic, the odds are against recent winners Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and, of course, Martin Truex Jr., who earned his first career Nextel Cup victory at Dover back in June. Still, you should expect Chase for the Cup participants to dominate the field this week in the second race of NASCAR's version of playoffs. Chase drivers have preached consistency over dominance so far, but they will be poised to run up front, and at least two of them should anchor your Stock Car Challenge squad. Even if a non-Chase driver can pull off a surprise win, those aren't the guys destined to lead you to the top of your group in the final segment of the Stock Car Challenge.
Dover is similar in length to last week's race site, New Hampshire, but other features make the track distinctive. New Hampshire is a flat track with 12 degrees of banking in the turns, but Dover is high-banked (24 degrees) and runs more like a superspeedway. Tire management will be important, as drivers cannot afford to wear down their tires. The decisions made by crew chiefs will be under the microscope because they must be prepared for green-flag pit stops. A wrong decision could cost a driver as many as two laps.
Jeff Gordon (Value: 23.7): Yes, it seems as though I pick him every week, but his recent "slump" is behind him, and Gordon seems overdue for another victory. He finished second at Loudon and has not won since the 14th race of the season, at Pocono. He's the most expensive driver in the game, but he'll be well worth the price tag this week. Gordon has four wins at Dover, with 18 top-10 finishes and 13 top-5 showings in 29 career races at the site. Also worth noting is that Gordon finished a respectable ninth at Dover in June and took the pole and finished third in the second race there in 2006. He has 22 top-10 finishes in 27 races in 2007, and he has placed in the top 5 a total of 16 times. Can't beat that consistency.
Jimmie Johnson (22.8): In 11 career races at Dover, Johnson has seven top-10 finishes, so he's a good bet to run at the front quite a bit this week. He also has won there three times and consistently puts up fast lap times, so there's even a chance he'll win the race. Plus, he has been racing well, having finished in the top 6 in six of the past seven races. He finished sixth at Loudon last week and will be ready to reclaim his spot atop the points standings.
Matt Kenseth (21.8); Kenseth might not be considered a prime contender for the championship, but his consistency will serve you well during the Chase, and he'll finish in the top half of the Chase standings when it's all over. Kenseth has finished in the top 10 a total of 10 times in 17 career races at Dover, and in the past five races there, his average running position of 7.7 is second-best among active drivers. He also has spent 91.1 percent (1,825 laps) of the total laps run there over the past five Dover races in the top 15, which is the second-best mark in that span. It also doesn't hurt that Kenseth is the defending champion of this race, the Dodge Dealers 400, which he won last year at this time.
Clint Bowyer (20.4): The momentum of his first career win last week should carry him to another strong finish this week. Bowyer has two top-10 finishes in three career Nextel Cup races at Dover and has a fine average running position of 8.7 in those three races. He also has 97 quality passes (defined as passes of cars in the top 15 while under green-flag conditions) at Dover for an average of 32.3 per race, the best of any driver. Bowyer has finished eighth in each of the past two races at Dover.
Greg Biffle (18.7): If any non-Chase driver has a chance to contend for a win this week, it's Biffle. He has one win and five top-5 showings at the site. In the past five races at Dover, he leads all drivers with 178 fastest laps run, 1,851 laps in the top 15 (92.4 percent) and 153 quality passes. His average running position of 7.4 is also second-best in that span. Biffle finished sixth in the June Dover race.
Bobby Labonte (17.3): Labonte finished 22nd at Loudon in June, breaking a string of four consecutive showings of 16th or better. Look for a better performance this weekend. Labonte has 14 top-10 finishes at the site, and he finished seventh in the Dodge Dealers 400 last year.
Dave Blaney (12.9): Blaney is fighting hard to keep Bill Davis Racing in the top 35 in owners' points and will try to get back in the groove after his 35th-place showing at New Hampshire. Blaney finished 12th at Dover earlier this season.
Ryan Newman (19.3) is another great secondary pick. He has eight top-10 finishes in 11 career races at Dover. Truex (20.2) has an average finish of 9.7 at Dover. Kyle Busch (21.9) has three top-5 finishes in five Dover races. Robby Gordon (14.7) finished 10th in the first Dover race of 2007.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.