- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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DOVER, Del. -- Shockingly enough, 43 cars are still expected to start the Heluva Good! 200 on Saturday at Dover International Speedway.
Yes, that's right, 42 drivers not named Joey Logano will be looking to steal the spotlight back from the driver making his Nationwide Series debut in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Toyota in what's arguably the most heralded debut since Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran his first Cup race in 1999.
And although it's possible Logano will be battling for the win, it still would be an upset if an 18-year-old is a contender the first time out. The bigger question is which drivers will manage to conquer the Monster Mile as the high-banked, concrete oval begins its 40th season.
Will Clint Bowyer stretch his points lead? Will Carl Edwards show why he was nicknamed "Concrete Carl" a year ago, or will Kyle Busch find his way to the front yet again in Braun Racing's No. 32 Toyota?
Bowyer, with a win and three top-four finishes in four Nationwide races at the track, has to be considered among the favorites. He's hoping to build upon his lead in the standings after Busch closed within 67 points.
The win came in his last start, in 2006, as Bowyer didn't run here a year ago. His worst finish, 19th, came in his '05 debut at the track.
"I enjoy Dover. It's just a fun, get-up-on-the-wheel, make-things-happen racetrack. It's fast it's a big Bristol is what Dover is," Bowyer said. "I love racing there. I'll never forget how intimidated I was the first time I went there. I've gotten better over the years. It's taken time, but I feel like I'm a lot better now than I was three or four years ago. Dover is definitely a good track for us, and I can't wait to get there."
Bowyer wasn't quite as enthusiastic heading there for the second time in the '05 campaign, but it was as if the proverbial switch had been thrown the second he took to the track in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
"I was a couple laps down the first time, and I thought I was going to die every lap," said Bowyer, who actually finished on the lead lap in his debut even though he felt as if he was off the pace. "Somehow, I went back there for the fall race and everything clicked. I have no idea why.
"The first lap on the track in the September race, I was six-tenths of a second faster than I'd ever been. I guess it was just something that I picked up. I like Dover. It's fast, it's racy, so I always like going there."
Edwards won here in June 2007 and was sixth in September but has been off his game in the Nationwide Series since the middle of last season. He said his goal this week is to start closing the 176-point gap Bowyer has opened over the driver sitting third in the standings.
"Our team has struggled a little bit as of late," said crew chief Pierre Kuettel, "but I know we can bust out in a major way at any time."
Busch, meanwhile, will be looking for his second straight win as he held off Sprint Cup Series teammate Denny Hamlin at Lowe's Motor Speedway to stop JGR's winning streak at six races. With Logano in the No. 20 and Hamlin in the No. 18 this week, Busch will be looking to snare Braun Racing's second straight win.
"The racing at Dover suits my driving style. It's a high-banked, concrete track with a lot of speed," Busch said. "I'm anxious to see how the tapered spacer affects our speeds in the center of the corners. It's a difficult track to master, but once you do, it's a lot of fun to drive.
Scott Wimmer, Bowyer's teammate at RCR, earned his first Nationwide win here in 2002 and was third here in spring 2007, so he's looking to build upon his win at Nashville Superspeedway earlier this season.
Once considered "Mr. Concrete" for his runs at Bristol, Nashville and Dover, Wimmer would like nothing more than to reclaim that moniker this weekend.
"I have had a lot of success on concrete, whether it is Bristol, Nashville or Dover. I feel very comfortable on concrete tracks," Wimmer said. " I had a really good run at Bristol, too. Things change from year to year, but the team has put together an excellent package and I'm looking forward to running well this weekend."
Maybe even well enough to steal a little attention from Logano, the driver everyone will be watching battle the Monster Mile.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Joey Logano will have more on his mind than just the Monster Mile in his Nationwide debut at Dover. Drivers named Kyle, Carl and Clint will see to that, writes Mark Ashenfelter.