Dover Preview

Dover's 'White Lightning' can be monstrous By Dave Rodman DOVER, Del. (June 3, 1999) Dale Jarrett used a well-handling race car -- and good fuel mileage -- to make his way into Victory Lane at Dover last season. When you take Dover Downs ...

Dover's 'White Lightning' can be monstrous By Dave Rodman

DOVER, Del. (June 3, 1999) Dale Jarrett used a well-handling race car -- and good fuel mileage -- to make his way into Victory Lane at Dover last season. When you take Dover Downs International Speedway's steeply-banked concrete curves, their accompanying high speeds and an overflow field of NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams trying to qualify for the MBNA Platinum 400, you have a recipe for a monstrously good time. And that's what the 43 drivers will expect Sunday when the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' 13th of 34 events gets the green flag at 12:30 p.m. ET at the "Monster Mile." The event features live coverage by TNN and MRN Radio.

Getting dialed-in at Dover is critical, and typical of most events on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, there's not a lot of time to perform that function. There's a limited amount of practice available leading up to Friday's Bud Pole Qualifying session, set for 3:30 p.m. ET, which will allocate starting positions 1-25 for Sunday's 400-lap, 400-mile race. The 43-car starting lineup is scheduled to be completed in Saturday's Bud Second-Round Qualifying session at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, established the MBNA Platinum 400 qualifying record of 155.898 mph (23.092 seconds) in Bud Pole Qualifying for last year's race. Mark Martin's lap of 155.966 mph (23.082 seconds) in the No. 6 Valvoline/Cummins Ford is the overall track qualifying record at Dover.

In 30 career races at Dover, Wallace's record sports three wins, 10 top-5 finishes, 16 top-10s and two Bud Poles. His three wins on the 1-mile oval -- which is part of a horse track/casino complex operated by Dover Downs Entertainment -- came in consecutive order as he won the fall race in 1993 and collected both Dover wins during the 1994 season. Since that success, he has flirted with other Monster Mile wins, finishing 2nd in the fall 1996 race, 3rd in the autumn event of 1995 and 5th in last September's race.

"We've had a lot of strong runs at Dover in recent years," Wallace said. "We've come so close to adding more wins to that streak we had going there several years back. It's just seemed like when we've been strong enough to win, there's been one driver or maybe a couple who've been just a tick stronger. Hopefully, we'll be the team that's a tick stronger that everybody else this time around."

With the season a little more than a third of the way complete, there's a number of drivers who are either in a position of wanting to maintain their current momentum or to stop skids and get their seasons going in the right direction.

One who could stand to maintain the status quo is Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus driver Dale Jarrett. The series point leader and his Robert Yates Racing crew led by crew chief Todd Parrott are the defending champions of the MBNA Platinum 400. They finished the race in 3 hours, 20 minutes and 48 seconds a year ago, at an average speed of 119.522 mph en route to the checkered flag.

Their 1998 margin of victory was 13.117 seconds over Jeff Burton's Exide Batteries Ford. Burton, who is coming off a victory in last weekend's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, led the standings earlier this season and has not slacked his pace much in pursuit of his first series championship.

Dover's high-speed layout means teams must find an elusive mix of a car that handles well, but is efficient at the same time as it maintains a consistent performance package.

"One of the biggest things at Dover is not abusing your tires," said Jimmy Makar, crew chief for Bobby Labonte's Interstate Batteries Pontiac, which finished half a second behind Burton last Sunday at Charlotte. "It seems like you can go fast with almost any set-up, but some setups abuse the tires more than others.

"So, you have to work hard with your set-up to be sure that you'll be able to conserve the tires. It's a real balancing act. Dover is a place where you can get swept up into trouble easily. It's a narrow, fast race track. There's not a lot of room to maneuver around trouble in front of you. You have to be able to race the race track and not other cars all day long. As far as handling characteristics of the car, the car needs to turn well in the center of the corner and not be loose coming off the corner. That's typically what people fight there."

Ken Schrader, who is coming into his own this season in Andy Petree's Skoal Chevrolet, agreed with Makar when assessing Dover's treacherous nature.

"Dover Downs is a real high-banked oval that is concrete," Schrader said. "It is one of those tracks where you are running high speeds, so if you come off the turn and you wiggle just a little you're going to have a hard time gathering it back up. It is a track where you have to be patient. We've run well in the past, so I'm looking forward to the race."

So are Parrott and Jarrett. The veteran chief mechanic brings another perspective to his preparation.

"At Dover, you have to have a race car that has good fuel mileage," Parrott said. "I know that because we won this race last year on fuel mileage. You have to have a good handling car, one that doesn't get tight at the end of a long run and that takes care of the tires."

Ernie Irvan, whose fortunes in the M&M's Pontiac have ebbed and flowed this season, has had some good luck recently at Dover. Irvan has two Bud Poles at Dover. He picked up his first pole position in June 1993 and followed up that performance in June of the following year with another top starting spot.

Irvan has three top-10 finishes in his last three starts at the Monster Mile, including two with his current team. Irvan finished 9th in fall 1997, 9th in the spring 1998 and 8th in the fall of last year. He has a total of eight top-10 finishes at the track, including four top-5s in the spring. He summed up the majority view of the facility.

"Dover Downs is a tough race track," he said. "The track didn't get the nickname 'Monster Mile' by chance. But the M&M's Pontiac is going to be ready. Every time we go there we know it is 400 miles of tight racing. It takes a lot of concentration to race at Dover because it is a lot like a big Bristol with its banked turns and straightaways. For the last couple of years Dover has been a great place for me. I think I have three straight top-10 finishes, including one with the M&M's team."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Andy Petree , Robert Yates , Mark Martin