Commentary

Dover challenge greets Nationwide drivers on stretch run

Speeds like a superspeedway with turns like a short track. Add a concrete surface and you have the Monster Mile in Dover, Del., and a special challenge for this week's Nationwide Series race, writes Mark Ashenfelter.

Updated: September 18, 2008, 3:40 PM ET
By Mark Ashenfelter | ESPN.com

DOVER, Del. -- Bitten by the Monster Mile in May, Landon Cassill has simpler goals this time around.

"The biggest thing about Dover is simply surviving the entire race," said Cassill, who has finishes of 18th and 25th in his two starts at the 1-mile, high-banked oval. We've shown in the past that speed is not an issue for us. I just need to focus on keeping the [JR Motorsports] Chevy in one piece all day.

"Personally, a great accomplishment would be finishing on the lead lap. With a solid run like that, we would easily be in position for a top-10 finish. Bottom line, I need to have a strong run at Dover in order to maintain the Raybestos Rookie of the Year lead."

Cassill was hit from behind early in the May race here, ending the day nine laps off the lead. Needless to say, he expects another challenging weekend leading up to Saturday's Camping World RV Sales 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

"Concrete tracks are pretty difficult to drive on because the surface is so hard on the tires. It seems like the asphalt surface will age and become more forgiving over time, but a concrete track does not," Cassill said. "Since Dover is a concrete track, there are many things you have to take in consideration like how you have to keep up with how much rubber is on the racetrack during practice. Another important goal during practice is to make sure you don't wear your tires out too much because you only have so many sets for the race the next day."

Denny Hamlin will be gunning for his third consecutive Dover win, but he'll be in a Braun Racing entry. Kyle Busch will be in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that Hamlin drove in the spring, meaning he'll once again be among the favorites.

Busch says the work done by JGR continues to make climbing into a Nationwide Series car simple for him. In his past seven starts with the No. 18 team, Busch hasn't finished worse than seventh.

"That whole … team just comes to the racetrack so prepared. At California, we unloaded with a great car right off the trailer and that makes a huge difference, to start off the weekend ahead of the game," Busch said. "When you unload bad, you spend a lot of time catching up instead of getting ahead, and we've certainly been ahead, lately with that team. I really have to thank all the guys back at the shop. The way these guys prepared the cars coming to the racetrack have been the reason why we have been so good."

Busch may find he's battling Brad Keselowski at the front of the field, based on Keselowski's success on concrete tracks so far this season. Seventh here in May, Keselowski has a pair of fourth-place finishes and two wins as well on concrete this season.

He's won the past two races on concrete, taking the checkered flag at Nashville Superspeedway in June and last month at Bristol. That doesn't mean he's expecting things to come easily this time around.

"Dover in general is just an intense racetrack. It's a roller coaster in itself. It's a roller coaster, but you're driving it," Keselowski said. "You go into Turn 1 and bottom out and your body just compresses when you land. Then you have to get back on the throttle and your whole body then transfers onto the ride side and you're up against the headrest and you can barely see. Then you come up off the corner and you ramp up and it seems like you're jumping. It's an intense lap, but that's what makes Dover so fun."

Joey Logano echoes those sentiments, having raced at Dover in NASCAR's Camping World East Series in addition to making his Nationwide Series debut at the track back in May.

This is the first track he's making a repeat appearance at in the Nationwide Series and he's looking forward to seeing if he can build upon a sixth-place finish.

"Dover is sweet. Going into both corners, you drop off into the corner big time. It's like jumping off a ledge," Logano said. "The whole car lifts up and then you land.

"When you land, that's huge. The attitude of the car when you land, that's a big deal. And then when you come off the corner, you come up out of the hole and then it lifts up off the corner. There's a lot you can do there and a lot of lines you can work with."

Twice the size of Bristol, Dover has speeds that make it feel like a mile-and-a-half track, says points leader Clint Bowyer, but the banking presents the challenges of Bristol. Things happen quick and Bowyer knows avoiding trouble will help his championship hopes.

"That's the hardest thing about tracks like Dover and Bristol. When they get tangled up in front of you, you better pick a good line to get through and hope it's the right line," Bowyer said. "If you choose poorly, your day can be over in a big hurry."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.

• Ashenfelter is an Event News Editor at ESPN.
• Worked at NASCAR Scene for eight years.
• Has covered NASCAR since 1999.

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