On the right track: Stewart's dominance scary at "Monster Mile" On the point: New Chase leader is Earnhardt -- via the tiebreak ON THE RIGHT TRACK Tony Stewart's disappointment about Round 1 of the Chase is tempered by the anticipation of...
On the right track: Stewart's dominance scary at "Monster
On the point: New Chase leader is Earnhardt -- via the tiebreak
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Tony Stewart's disappointment about Round 1 of the Chase is tempered by the anticipation of Round 2 at Dover. Stewart has had a remarkable run of success there. In 11 starts at Dover, he has nine top-five finishes and 10 top 10s. Two victories are included in that string -- he swept the 2002 races there.
Here are other Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers with impressive histories at Dover:
• Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) also has to feel like he can bounce back from his 33rd-place finish at New Hampshire. In only five Dover starts he has two wins, three top-five finishes and four top 10s, plus one pole. "No matter what happened at Loudon, we're still going in to every race with the goals of winning, leading the most laps and getting every bonus point possible," Newman said. "I look forward to the opportunity for the last nine races. I think we've learned a lot getting up to these last 10 races. I think you'll see a lot stronger No. 12 car in the last 10."
• Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), like Newman, has two victories in only five starts at Dover and three top 10s overall.
• Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) each have four Dover victories, tied for the second-best total among active drivers (Rusty Wallace leads with five.). And of course, don't discount the fact that Martin's last Dover victory came in the series' last Dover event, on June 6.
THE PRESSURE'S ON
Dover has been less-than-friendly -- or at the least, fickle -- to the following Chase competitors:
• The stat sheet indicates that Kurt Busch may have a hard time following up on his New Hampshire victory. In eight Dover races, Busch has only one top-10 finish. He also has three DNFs and an average Dover finish of 22.750, the lowest of the Chase drivers.
• Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) has 11 Dover starts -- and only one top-10 finish.
• Reigning series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) has yet to post a Dover victory, in 11 tries. He has led a total of one lap in those 11 races.
WE HAVE A NEW LEADER(S)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch head into Dover with identical point totals -- 5,210. But Earnhardt, who finished third at New Hampshire, is your series leader, because he has four victories this season compared to Busch's three.
No matter how you cast the deadlock, though, both drivers are happy about their position coming out of Round 1.
"It's kind of nice to be leading the points again, even though I'd prefer to be up there by myself," Earnhardt said. "Seriously, to lead the points this early in the Chase probably doesn't mean that much, because we still have a long way to go, but it sure beats the hell out of being anywhere else in the standings. I was real proud of my team at New Hampshire. The Eurys (crew chief Tony Sr. and car chief Tony Jr.) did a great job, and I think we can make a serious run for this championship.
"For me mentally, it's more intense [now than in the first 26 races of the season], because what we've worked so hard for is within our grasp if we can just put together a better string of races than nine other guys. [New Hampshire] was a good start. This weekend at Dover will be a whole new ball game. We've got to run good. We weren't very good there last time, but somehow we avoided all the wrecks and finished third [in June]. We tested there last week, and it went pretty well."
Adds Busch: "Before the [New Hampshire] race I joked about us coming out with the points lead. I didn't think it was possible, but we're really excited to kick this thing off with a win. But there's so much work ahead of us. This was a great effort for the team. The Chase is on, and we're ready for Round 2 at the 'Monster Mile.'
"When I first started out in the Cup series, Dover was one of my favorite tracks. I made my first Cup start there in 2000 and we qualified well at 10th place, and went on to finish 18th, so it was a solid way to kick off our Cup series efforts. I had won earlier that weekend in the inaugural truck series race at Dover, but since then we haven't had the same success there. It's a track similar to Bristol, almost like a bigger brother to that track being a mile in length at Dover versus a half-mile in Bristol, but our success at Bristol hasn't translated as well to that track."
• "We are at the point in the season where we can go for it - and that is exactly what we are going to do." -- Elliott Sadler.
• "I don't think any of us are going to get mulligans." -- Tony Stewart, in the aftermath of an incident at New Hampshire that he worries will cost him dearly in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
• "Dover demands so much from a driver, both physically and mentally, which is why I enjoy it so much. There is no 'relaxation' time, except for cautions." -- Ryan Newman.
What: MBNA America 400 (Round 2 of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup/Race No. 28 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Dover International Speedway; Dover, Del.
When: Sunday, Sept. 26, 1 p.m. (ET).
TV: TNT, 1 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $4,966,610.
Race length: 400 miles/400 laps.
Track layout: 1-mile concrete oval.
2003 winner: Ryan Newman.
2003 polesitter: Matt Kenseth. (Qualifying rained out; field set per series rule book.)
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings: 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,210. 2. Kurt Busch 5,210. 3. Jeff Gordon 5,201. 4. Matt Kenseth 5,200. 5. Jimmie Johnson 5,180. 6. Elliott Sadler 5,172. 7. Mark Martin 5,139. 8. Tony Stewart 5,086. 9. Ryan Newman 5,074. 10. Jeremy Mayfield 5,068.