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Race Day: Drivers Looking For Concrete Results

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 3 2012

Sprint Cup racing today moves to a track which many agree is a monster. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

It’s pretty tough to wring a consensus out of drivers on about any subject. But it seems that most Sprint Cup drivers seem to have nice feelings about Dover International Speedway, site of today’s FedEx 400.

Now, getting them to agree to why they like it is a different story.

Here is what some of those drivers had to say about racing at the concrete, high-banked and very tricky Monster Mile:

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, when asked why he likes Dover and how he copes there: “I think this is a driver’s race track and a lot of us like this race track but at the same time we share a lot of information. We share setups and that kind of thing. I think that helps our organization as a whole. I think we can count on one another for information and that makes us good as a team. We run good at this race track which is a plus for us.”

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, when he was asked his key to driving well there:  “It’s always feel. This track you spend probably two-thirds of a lap in the corner. You’ve got to get the car to get through the bumps. You’ve got to get it through three distinct parts of the corner here. I mean the entry the way it lands in the corner, the way it gets off the corner then the way it rotates through

Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson have Hendrick Motorsports rolling. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

the center. You’ve got to get all three of those to work right.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet ,when he was asked about trouble spots: “Getting into turn three there are some bumps that the rear tires sort of skate across, that’s always kind of difficult, getting the car to turn in the middle of the corner. Cars kind of slide the back tires getting in the corner, and then they kind of push through the center at both ends of the race track. That really doesn’t show up until race time.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, when he was asked if the concrete surface at Dover makes things difficult: “Each track is different and unique and I have never raced this track except when it has been concrete. It has always been like this for me and I don’t know any different. Obviously I know it is concrete but I don’t think about us being at as asphalt track last week and a concrete track this week. It is just Dover and it is a very different race track. I don’t think it really changes anything we do or preparation or anything because of the surface. It is the only way we know this track.”

Trivia time

Among those who will start today’s race, which driver has the best average finish at Dover?

More changes

NASCAR officials continue to tinker with the Sprint Cup cars as they attempt to find a way to make the racing better. They recently attacked the side skirts of the cars, hoping that would reduce downforce.

Five -time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was asked this weekend if he would like to see additional

Jeff Gordon talks about changes. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

changes.

He said: “I’m not against it and I understand the position NASCAR is in that they don’t want the leader to be in the ideal situation and have clean air and all the benefits that come with it. If they can close that gap from first to 15th it is just going to be a better show. It’s tough when we are, as race teams and on race weekends, the test pilots for all of this. There is that factor which I kind of like to be honest with you because things have been the same for so long it’s tough to find something different. Whenever there is a rules change it allows some team to figure it out first.

“We are usually pretty good at that. The other thing though that we are never going to get around, I’m not against trying to fix it, the lead car has the best situation. It doesn’t matter what you do to the cars what shape they are. The racing in the ‘80’s, I’m sorry they didn’t know about the aero push and I’m sorry we only had five cars on the lead lap. You can’t take back the knowledge we have.

“The lead car will always have the best air and you can’t get around that. If we can close that gap, I get it; I understand it and I think it is better for the sport. The more difficult the cars are to drive, especially the looser they are fits my driving style and I’m all for that.”

Track facts

Today’s race: The FedEx 400

Track: Dover International Speedway, Dover, Del.

Distance: 400 laps (400 miles)

Configuration: 1-mile oval

Surface: Concrete

Banking: 24 degrees in corners, 9 degrees on straights

Jeff Burton's Richard Childress Racing car is pushed to through the pits at Dover. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Grandstand seating capacity: 135,000

First race: Mason-Dixon 400, July 6, 1969

First race pole-sitter: David Pearson

First-race winner: Richard Petty in a Ford

Last year’s winner: Matt Kenseth

Today’s pole-sitter: Mark Martin

Most poles: 6, by David Pearson

Most wins: 7, by Bobby Allison and Richard Petty

Most wins by active driver: 6, by Jimmie Johnson

Most top-fives: 23, by Mark Martin

Narrowest margin of victory: .08 seconds, in 2005

The Keys

The keys to today’s race come courtesy of Howard Comstock, engineer for SRT Motorsports:

Back In Black: “We noticed yesterday that there was an incredible amount of rubber build-up on the track. Throughout the day, teams tried to adjust their cars to deal with the increasing amount of rubber. Last night, we had heavy rain that washed all the rubber off. We have only two laps of qualifying today which aren’t going to mean much. And then we have the Nationwide Series race today, which will be interesting

Brad Keselowski looking for a series-best third victory of the season today. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

to watch. For Sunday, are we going to have the track that we raced on during Friday practice with a lot of rubber build-up or will we see a clean track? That’s a lot of changing over a two-day period and that’s tough for the teams to adapt to that.”

Pit Road Woes: “This year, week after week we’ve seen good runs by quality teams go bad on pit road – mistakes by the driver getting on and off pit road, collisions on pit road, equipment being taken out of the box. Now we come to the halfway point to the Chase and we’re on the narrowest pit lane in Sprint Cup racing. I think the drivers are going to have to concentrate on their pit road etiquette and teams are going to have to be careful in their boxes. I’d give up a tenth of a second on pit road versus serving a drive-through penalty on pit road. We’ve seen too many times this year that good runs have gone bad because of penalties on pit road. You can’t afford that here.”

Two Lane Groovin’: “Generally speaking, if you can get your car to work on the bottom at Dover it will be good on the top groove as well. It’s harder to make your car work low here. If you’re car won’t work low and you have to move up, then it’s trouble because the guy that can make his car work in the low lane is going to pass you every time.”

New tires

Goodyear has a new tire that it’s putting on the cars this weekend. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was asked about the new tire and what he expects from it today.

“We’re still kind of learning this tire and what it’s going to do,” Gordon said. “Usually when a tire has more grip, that’s going to make us go around the bottom a little bit more, so we need to see more laps run before we start to see if there is some fall-off. The tire is not wearing a lot. Goodyear found a way to bring more grip here with a tire that doesn’t give up and wear out as much. It always amazes me when they’re able to do that.

“I love to see the groove move up to the top. To see Dover at its best, which to me is when there, is a top groove, middle groove, and a bottom groove and just great racing all the way around this race track. I know that typically when rubber gets laid down on the track we start searching and pushing that groove up and up and up. I think that is one of the great things that we’ve seen here at Dover over the last couple of years and I would think that would continue.”

Trivia anwer

Carl Edwards’ average finish at Dover is 7.3, best among the starting field today.

Up next

The Cup series moves to Pocono, which was recently repaved. Kurt Busch won the pole there last year and Jeff Gordon won the race.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 3 2012
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