AP Photo/Russ Hamilton
Start your engines
Certainly your racing fix was satisfied last weekend between the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500 and the two-day festival of rain (with a little racing) at Charlotte.
But don't sleep on Dover this weekend.
The Monster Mile is a unique beast, a high-banked concrete cauldron that gets every driver's attention. It's fast, bumpy, fast, a little reconfigured, and did we mention fast?
"Dover is one of my favorite tracks; it is a lot like Darlington. Dover and Darlington are fun racetracks because they're so fast and the driver can make a big difference," said Carl Edwards, 11th in points for Roush Racing and a 2007 Monster Mile winner. "At Dover, when you drive off into Turn 1, it's a lot like driving off into Turn 1 at Darlington -- the car kind of lifts off a little bit and then it settles, and the sensation of speed is really high."
How speedy? The Cup Series' pound-for-pound fastest track has a record pole speed of 161.522 mph (by Jeremy Mayfield, of all people), with Jeff Gordon's 157.061 mark last September the fastest so far in the new-generation car. Pretty remarkable on a mile oval.
And pay attention to the cars that are dialed in for qualifying -- they'll likely be the race contenders. One quirk in the concrete is that it doesn't rubber-in, so to speak, adding traction like asphalt tracks. You'll know early on who has a race-winning car and who doesn't.
"Getting the car balanced right to maximize grip is pretty tricky here," said Jeff Gordon, a four-time Dover winner and current points leader. "And you're in the corners a lot here."
With consistency, one hopes.
"Once you get a race car right there, it usually stays right all day," said Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing, a three-time Dover winner and four-time pole-sitter while at Penske Racing.
That has its advantages when the green flag stays out, and chances are it will this weekend. Five of the past six Dover races have had stretches of green lasting more than 100 laps.
In last year's spring race, the final 154 laps were run under green, with Kyle Busch leading the final 74 and winning. That was Toyota's first win at Dover, giving all four Cup manufacturers a trip to Victory Lane at the Monster Mile in an eight-race span.
Green-flag pit stops should be easier, thanks to a widening of pit road. A new concrete pit wall stretching from Turn 4 down the fronstretch to Turn 1 allowed the track to reconfigure the 43 pit stalls, allowing for 4 extra feet in each box. A strip of grass on the frontstretch was eliminated and the outside pit wall was moved closer to the track, allowing for a wider driving lane in pit road.
Getting to pit road is also easier with new apron space between Turns 3 and 4, permitting cars more room to slow down.
So that's one less thing to think about -- and more time to think about the concrete beast.
"Because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would," said two-time winner Tony Stewart, second in points as a new owner-driver. "There are seams in Dover's surface and places where they've cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change, and every year when you go there the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that's constantly changing.
"But it's one of those places where you really can't change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It's just a matter of finding the package that's right for that racetrack."
David Reutimann: His team actually took "The Franchise" nameplate off his car, figuring it must have been some kind of racing jinx when the No. 00 stopped running in the top 15. At Talladega, Richmond and Darlington, he didn't crack the top 25.
So nothing wrong with a little rain in Charlotte. No one who has ever scored a rain-shortened win has given the trophy back, and this one's not going anywhere either -- especially not after Reutimann moved to 13th in points, six points shy of Mark Martin and the prized 12th position.
"Now he won, so we're not going to put [Franchise] back on there," owner Michael Waltrip said.
John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You Gotta See This
Matt Kenseth: The No. 17 Roush Ford isn't back to early-season form; the only way that can happen is for it to find Victory Lane. But for the first time since the back-to-back wins at Daytona and California, Kenseth has another pair of consecutive top-10s, finishing 10th at both Darlington and Charlotte. He also was second in the All-Star Race to Tony Stewart, nothing to hang one's head about these days.
After the Coke 600, er, 340, Kenseth moved up one spot in points to ninth, trying to get some breathing room in the Chase race. He's still perfect in Chase berths, 5-for-5, a feat that looks more impressive all the time.
Off The Pace
Robby Gordon: Do you think it's feeding time in the inspection bay when Robby Gordon has a good race? Put that in your NASCAR conspiracy file. The independent owner/driver runs third at Charlotte, his best finish since a second at Watkins Glen in 2005 (his 2001 New Hampshire win was the last top-3 on an oval), then loses 50 driver and owner points for an improper rear-axle housing found in postrace inspection.
Of course, Gordon also got hit at Daytona last year for an unapproved bumper cover (point penalties were later overturned on appeal but the fine was increased), in 2006 he was cited for allegedly throwing debris onto the track at Atlanta, and in 2005 Gordon was pinched for cursing during a television interview after a crash with Michael Waltrip at New Hampshire.
Not saying the No. 7 is under the microscope, but
Inside The Numbers
5 -- Laps led by David Reutimann at Charlotte
0 -- Green-flag laps led by Reutimann
29 -- Years since winner led only under caution (Terry Labonte, Darlington, 1980)
4 -- Races in which Kyle Busch has led the most laps
1 -- Busch's win in those races (Bristol)
2,037 -- Laps led by Busch in Cup, Nationwide and Truck