Dover's 400-lap sprint keeps Cup drivers on the edge of their seats

Updated: June 6, 2008, 3:30 PM ET

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

They don't call super-fast Dover International Speedway the Monster Mile for nothing.

Start Your Engines

For 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 Man

Greg 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 johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Standings

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Slippery Slope

Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya: The No. 42 Dodge is 17th in points, 191 ticks out of 12th place, not an impossibility on the surface to make the Chase. But the question today isn't whether Montoya can mount a playoff push; it's whether he and the Target Chip Ganassi camp can function without more turmoil and at least string together a few good finishes.

The second-year driver was furious at the firing of crew chief Jimmy Elledge, a move that left him going into the Coca-Cola 600 with his third different chief in a month. The results over the weekend were predictable, as he was the second-slowest driver in qualifying and finished 30th in the race, having found trouble midway through with a run through the grass that broke the front splitter.

After a string of seven top-20s that ended with a runner-up finish at Talladega, Montoya has gone 32nd-23rd-30th in his past three starts. If things don't turn around with new crew chief Brian Pattie, watch out for the fiery Colombian. He'll speak his mind.

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Vickers

Brian Vickers: That was no laughing matter, watching a tire from the No. 83 Toyota bounce down the Lowe's Motor Speedway track, over two barriers and onto the campground. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

Vickers' car, however, was done for the day after 184 laps and he finished 42nd, his worst of the season and one that dropped him three spots in the standings to 20th. A month ago, he was 15th after a fifth-place day at Talladega.

"We've made so many gains. We just have to finish it off -- we've got it to where we can lead laps and where we can stay in the top 20 in points," Vickers said. "Now we just have to finish it off where we don't have any problems week in and week out."

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Kenseth

Matt Kenseth: We've been hard on him in recent weeks when he fell to 22nd in points behind three consecutive finishes of 38th or worse, a first in his career. But with a sixth at Darlington and seventh at the 600, perhaps he and new crew chief Chip Bolin are finally finding some rhythm. Being 16th in points now also sounds much better for attacking a fifth consecutive Chase spot over the final 14 races of the regular season.

"Even though we were able to get a pretty decent finish, it could have been a lot better," the Roush Fenway driver said. "Still, we were able to make some gains in the point standings, and hopefully that will continue at Dover."