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Race Day: Surface Issues To Challenge Dover Drivers Today

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 27 2009

dover monster

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Today’s Sprint Cup race will be held on the concrete surface of Dover International Speedway. It will be one the few races during the season to be held on a white surface and the first and only Chase race to be held on an all-concrete track.

As with other burning, modern lifestyle questions – paper vs. plactic or boxers vs. briefs – asphalt vs. concrete can divide competitors into camps.

Here is what some drivers had to say about the two types of surface:

Mark Martin: “In my opinion asphalt is a better surface to race on in a lot of ways. There are some negatives to it. At times it gets rougher, it gets worn out. It’s not consistent year to year because of the wearing out and getting older, the asphalt isn’t. Concrete is consistent. It’s more consistent with the weather. The way the car slips on concrete is more like being cut loose from a string or a rope. When the car starts to slip on concrete it loses 50 percent grip where on asphalt it loses 20 percent grip. So it makes it a little harder to man-handle a race car some times on concrete. That being said, this is such an awesome race track that even the concrete hasn’t taken away from it being great to race on and really, really fun. So there are pluses and minuses.”

Brian Vickers: “I guess it depends on how you look at it.  It’s the same for everyone no matter what. Concrete seems to be affected less by temperature, by sun, things like that. Qualifying will tend to be, I think, more consistent for everybody depending on the rubber build-up or where that sits.  Beyond that, you’ll build rubber on concrete and it will get pushed off a little bit more under caution laps and things like that. It’s a little bit different. I like concrete racing.  I really do.  I enjoy it here. I always enjoyed Nashville. I think Nashville is a great track. Most of our concrete tracks – like here and Bristol – are high-banked and all this stuff.  And you got Nashville, that’s a little bit flatter, and I’ve always enjoyed that as well.  Other than that, I don’t think it’s a huge difference.  I don’t really think a lot about it.”

Jimmie Johnson: “There is definitely a sensation difference when you drive the track. It seems as if you can feel the expansion joints and the way the concrete is poured. There is a high-frequency repetitive chatter in the car that feels like the expansion joints all the way around the track. So then you have to decide as you’re drifting the car, the tires will chatter as well, and you’ve got to try to understand how much chatter is good because a loose race car is fast. But if you take it too far and the car is around, you’re going to hit something. You can’t spin out and miss the fence.

“So there are aspects there that are more challenging. I’d say from a set-up standpoint, at least with the tire we ran here in the spring, it didn’t lay a lot of rubber and the track stayed really consistent. From what I saw during the tire test, this tire lays a lot of rubber down. So there’s a lot of oil in it. And that’s really going to change the track relative to temperature, sun sitting on it, and things like that. So I think this weekend could be more of a challenge because of the tire. The track will have more of a balance swing with clouds, with temperature, and during the course of the race.”

Fast Facts

The Race: AAA 400

The Place: Dover International Speedway (1-mile banked concrete)

The Date: Sunday, Sept. 27

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400 laps/400miles

TV: ABC, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2008 Winner: Greg Biffle

2008 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

Youngest gun

This weekend, Brian Vickers will become the youngest driver ever to reach 200 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in six full seasons of competition.

Of the 200 starts, Vickers has only driven for two teams, Hendrick Motorsports, for which he made 113 starts, and Team Red Bull with 86 starts.

“Wow,” Vickers said. “Makes me feel old! It’s pretty cool when you think about it. It’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad to have been involved in the sport, at this level, for that long. It’s only going to get better as it goes on and as I progress in my career.”

Vickers currently is eighth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with one win, four top fives, 13 top 10s and six poles.

“2009 has been a great overall highlight with all that’s gone on with this team over the years and the building we have done,” he said. “The win. The Chase. It’s been fantastic. My first career win was great but there is something really gratifying about building a program from the ground up and seeing it succeed.”

Broom Town

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have the No. 48 team second in the standings after a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire.

But unlike leader Mark Martin, who hasn’t won at Dover since 2004, Johnson dominated the track’s 2009 spring race, becoming one of only three drivers this season to score a perfect Driver Rating.

Johnson has 15 starts at Dover with four wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s and one pole.

In the spring event at Dover this year, Johnson started eighth but didn’t take long moving to the front, leading 298 of 400 laps.

“I’m really excited about Dover,” Johnson said. “We have a new tire this time around, and I was able to participate in the tire test for that. I think it will change the handling on the Cup car some, but I think all in all, the track has been so good to me over the years, we should be in great shape. I hope to have a similar performance to the spring race.”

Dover No Pushover

Dover is known for close-quarter racing and impressive side-by-side beating and banging, but its events also tend to shake up the points standings. The standings leader has changed after three of the track’s last four Chase races.

2004 — In the Chase’s first year, eventual series champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) led off with a New Hampshire win. But he finished fifth at Dover; while the then-third-place Jeff Gordon finished third, taking the points lead.

Busch rallied back and won the championship in 2004, beating series runner-up Jimmie Johnson by eight points after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2005 — Points leader and eventual champion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Burger King Chevrolet) headed to Dover after finishing second at New Hampshire, but fell two laps down during the event, finishing 18th. He dropped to fifth in standings, while the winner of the event, Jimmie Johnson, shot to the top of the standings from his fifth-place spot. But in the end, Stewart came back to capture his second series championship.

2006 — Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) won the opening Chase race at New Hampshire and also assumed the points lead by 35 points. Harvick’s success was short-lived, though, when his engine blew at Dover, knocking him out of the top spot to fourth.

His Richard Childress Racing teammate, Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), went on to win the race and jump four spots from fifth to the standings lead. Neither driver went on to win the championship, but rather it was Jimmie Johnson, who won the first of his three consecutive titles.

2007 — Then-second-year driver Clint Bowyer (No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet), won his first series race at New Hampshire last season, and Johnson held on to the points lead.

But when Johnson got to Dover, he finished two laps down in 14th, dropping him four spots in the Chase standings. Jeff Gordon finished 11th and took the top spot in the points.

2008 — Last year marks the one race among Dover’s last four Chase events that the standings leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was not unseated afterward.

Chase tidbits

After New Hampshire, 10 of the top 12 Chase drivers switched positions in the standings. Two did not, Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) in eighth and the man at the top of the Chase standings, Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) who will make his 750th series start this weekend.

Martin has come out of the gate strong, holding off Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Polaroid Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) to capture his first win in 26 attempts at New Hampshire last week, his fifth victory of the season and the 40th of his career. He also held his lead in the standings to 35 points ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet).

Expect the unexpected this Sunday.

Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, 18-to-20-degree, variable-banked track that is aptly named “The Monster Mile”.

Seven of the top 12 Chase contenders have won at Dover; six of the seven have multiple wins. Martin, Johnson and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) are tied with the most among the top 12 contenders with four victories there.

Both Gordon and Martin also are tied for the most poles amongst Chase contenders with four. Martin also leads the series with the most top fives (21) and the most top 10s (28) at Dover.

Up Next: Kansas Speedway

Kansas Speedway hosts the third race in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods — next Sunday, Oct. 4 (2 p.m. start on ABC).

Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner and polesitter.

Last October’s victory at Kansas was Johnson’s first time winning at the 1.5-mile track. It also was car owner Rick Hendrick’s series leading third win there.

Chase participant Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with two wins, five top fives and six top 10s at Kansas.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 27 2009
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