AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Start Your EnginesFor the second consecutive week, the Sprint Cup drivers will settle in for -- they hope -- 400 laps. But this Sunday's test will be nothing like the last, where endurance was the name of the game, trying to stay out of trouble around a 1.5-mile oval in order to finish. At Dover (Del.) International Speedway, the trouble can find you. Four hundred laps around the Monster Mile is one long dogfight, with high speeds on high banks tossing everyone on top of each other. "It's not a track that calls for a lot of finesse," said Dale Earnhardt Inc. part-time driver Mark Martin, who owns four Cup wins plus Nationwide and Craftsman Truck wins at Dover. "You just have to attack it. You go into that place and you let it all hang out. You just drive like an animal." The unique concrete oval has 9-degree straights and 24-degree corners, not quite as steep as Bristol or as fast as a restrictor-plate track, but retaining some characteristics of both. "It's an awesome track to race as far as being able to pass cars. It's a blast to drive around Dover because of the speed and, most importantly, because of the banking," Penske Racing's Ryan Newman said. "The fact that it's concrete doesn't hurt anything either because it makes the track more consistent, which is good for all teams. "At Dover, the entry into the corners is the toughest part. If you don't get a good entry, you're not going to have a good middle or a good exit. It's a give-and-take racetrack, so it is a lot of fun for the drivers." It's a credit to the place that no manufacturers have owned it, as Chevrolets and Fords have each won three of the past six races, and before that Newman's Dodge won three. Call it an equal-opportunity track, but capable of rewarding and revolting. Take last year's races as proof. Martin Truex Jr. won the spring event, his first and only Cup title, leading 216 of 400 laps in a dominating seven-second win. That was a relatively clean event, whereas the September Chase race was a mess. Chase driver Denny Hamlin and Kyle Petty got together on the track and later in the garage, with Petty slapping the Joe Gibbs Racing driver's helmet. Another Chaser, Matt Kenseth, led 192 laps -- including 169 in one stretch midway through the race -- but retired with a blown valve. Then a 10-car wreck with 14 laps to go brought a red flag, with Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Truex all taking hits in the Chase points (Johnson, of course, recovered just fine and won a second straight Cup). Carl Edwards won the race, but that wasn't without trouble too -- he was docked 25 points by NASCAR for being too low on the right rear of his COT. The Roush Fenway driver, among others, has been in the news lately for rear-housing adjustments that make their cars "crab" down the straights. NASCAR put an end to that this week, mandating 1 degree as the maximum allowance in the toe of the rear end. "We're not going to have a tool that we've used to make these cars handle better, but last year when we raced at Dover, this car was still so new that we hadn't even started messing with the rear-end housing," said Joe Gibbs Racing's Tony Stewart, eighth in points and a two-time Dover winner. "So in all reality, it's the same Dover. The characteristics of the track haven't changed. It's still tough, it's still bumpy and I think at the end of a run, you're still going to be sliding around like you normally are."
Rocket ManGreg Biffle: Going from last to second is about as rocket-man-like as one can get, and that's what The Biff did from Darlington to Charlotte. Two weeks after a blown engine allowed his mind to wander about his future at Roush Fenway, he was back to manhandling the No. 16. And he was manhandling at times Sunday. "We had run good all night. We probably had a fast enough car to run up there with the 9 [winner Kasey Kahne]," said Biffle, 11th in points. "We ran lap times, but we just never could get track position. Every time, we'd lose track position. I was too loose in traffic, too tight in traffic. Once it got strung out about 20 laps in, I would come on. We needed that long green run at the end because my car was just mowing guys down." John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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