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Dover more thrill ride than race track Shawn A. Akers DOVER, Del. (May 27, 1998) "The Monster Mile." It sounds like an amusement park ride. Talk to some of the drivers and crew chiefs on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and they'll tell...

Dover more thrill ride than race track Shawn A. Akers

DOVER, Del. (May 27, 1998) "The Monster Mile." It sounds like an amusement park ride.

Talk to some of the drivers and crew chiefs on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and they'll tell you that running at Dover Downs International Speedway --- site of Sunday's MBNA Platinum 400 -- seems like a thrill ride at Disneyland or Six Flags.

"It is a fast lap," said Mark Martin, who won the fall race and posted a second-place finish in the spring event last year at Dover. "You don't slow down much in the corners. I let off the gas when it starts to take my breath away in the corners. Both the corners drop off and the entry to the corners dip down, which makes the car feel light and unsettled.

"If you hit the setup on your car, you can run wide open until the next corner. The high banks are thrilling, and fun to drive."

Dover is banked 24 degrees in the corners and has a nine-degree banking on the straightaways. The frontstretch and the backstretch are both 1,076 feet long.

Bristol Motor Speedway has the steepest banking of any race track on the circuit, and it is similar to Dover in that it is surfaced with concrete. A half-mile race track in comparison, Bristol is banked 36 degrees in the turns.

Many drivers dread Dover because it is one of the more grueling tracks in the sport. One thing has helped, however, and that is that the days of the 500-mile, 500-lap races at Dover are over. Last spring's Miller 500, won by Ricky Rudd, was the final 500-mile event to be run there.

Getting the setup right at Dover isn't the problem, Gumout Pontiac crew chief Doug Hewitt said. Setting up the car to run well is just like any other race track.

It's the drivers, Hewitt said, that take the beating on the one-mile concrete oval for three hours. The facility used to be paved with asphalt, but the change to concrete was made a few years ago.

"The shock combinations are about the only real thing that we have to worry about as far as the setup of the car at Dover because of the concrete," Hewitt said. "No, the biggest thing as far as Dover goes is that you have to get the car to where the driver can drive it.

"It's so hard on him if he has to fight the car all day. The car has to be very comfortable for him, and it has to be able to take 400 miles. The driver is the one that has to survive out there. Whether it's 400 miles or 500 miles, it's a long race, although we're grateful they have cut back to 400 miles."

Tires and tire conservation are also big issues at Dover, especially with the concrete surface.

"You've got to conserve your tires so you can at least make them last a fuel stop," said Jimmy Makar, crew chief for the Interstate Batteries Pontiac and driver Bobby Labonte. "If you abuse them early on, you're not going to have anything left to race with later. Tire management is key, and it's always something that's in the back of your mind.

"Dover's a place that can eat up tires in a heartbeat. We've seen a lot of that before. The teams that usually run well have people that know how to set the car up to better manage the tires so that the driver won't abuse them."

Dover has fallen in and out of favor over the years with Rudd who, by his own admission, had last year's Miller 500 "handed to him."

"Dover used to be one of my favorite tracks, but then they replaced the asphalt with concrete and I didn't like it," Rudd said. "There was only one lane to run in and you couldn't pass. It was a lot better last year and I guess I'd have to say I like it now since we won this race last year.

"The racing groove has opened up and we can race either on the bottom or the top. Dover is a lot like Bristol now, and it takes a special car to run well. The car has to have a lot of ground clearance because there is so much vertical wheel travel, and your shock and spring package has to be perfect to run at the front."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Mark Martin