BUSCH: Dover Preview

By Dave Rodman DOVER, Del. (June 3, 1999) Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes he can repeat last year's win a Dover -- minus the unexpected spin while entering the pits, of course. Dale Earnhardt Jr., buoyed by a successful North American debut in ...

By Dave Rodman

DOVER, Del. (June 3, 1999) Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes he can repeat last year's win a Dover -- minus the unexpected spin while entering the pits, of course. Dale Earnhardt Jr., buoyed by a successful North American debut in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series last weekend, will attempt to reprise his 1998 "spin and win" performance in Saturday's MBNA Platinum 200 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race at Dover Downs International Speedway. Earnhardt, who finished 16th in his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series points race last weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600, set a race record average speed of 130.512 mph last year at Dover's "Monster Mile," despite spinning out while trying to enter the pits at the concrete-surfaced oval.

He hopes to tee up his No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet from an advantageous spot in the 43-car starting field after Friday's Bud Pole Qualifying at 2:10 p.m. ET sets the lineup for Saturday's 1 p.m. ET race. The event qualifying record was set in 1998 by Kevin Lepage, who clocked a lap of 151.688 mph, or 23.733 seconds, in the Channellock Chevrolet.

"I have heard that you either love Dover or you hate it," said Earnhardt, who went on to win seven races and his 1st NASCAR Busch Series championship in 1998. "I love it. I like any high-banked track. Last year, winning at Dover was the turning point of the season -- I hope it will be the same this year."

Earnhardt Jr., who trails point leader Matt Kenseth by 84 points coming into Dover, is one of several drivers in the event with a winning Dover heritage.

Todd Bodine won his first series race with Cicci-Welliver Racing in 1991. Since then he has won two more times, and despite enduring some up-and-down luck this season, he thinks his Phillips 66 Chevrolet team can shake its doldrums at Dover.

"I feel like qualifying up front will be real important this weekend," Bodine said. "It seems like we always have one long green flag period at Dover and it is so easy to go down a lap when one car gets hooked up. This track has been good to both me and the Cicci-Welliver Racing team over the years -- hopefully we can have a solid finish and maybe even win the race. A win would be perfect medicine for our team right now after the run of luck we have been having."

That type of boost would be a boon to any number of operations. While Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth -- who battled "Lil' E" down to the wire in the point race a year ago -- have resumed their dog fight for the championship, the top-10 in the standings has flexed on a race-to-race basis and any one of a dozen teams could use a momentum boost.

The field will include a number of former winners at Dover, including Goulds Pumps Chevrolet driver Mike McLaughlin and Bob Evans Chevrolet pilot Randy LaJoie, along with Earnhardt Jr., and Bodine. But they all agree, while they crave the challenge, Dover is a tough proposition when it comes to being consistent on the high-banked mile for 200 laps.

"I love racing at Dover," Bodine said. "It's where I won my first Busch race and I scored my first top-5 finish here. I've had a lot of success here but it is a difficult race track. It's one of two concrete tracks we race on, the other being Bristol, so it's very fast. Plus, it's pretty hard on drivers physically because there is a bump just about every eight feet. You have to be both aggressive and patient when racing at Dover."

Crew chief Donnie Richeson says drivers must be on their toes at all times when racing the Monster Mile.

"There's nothing easy about Dover," Richeson said. "Drivers get a lot of good speed going down in the turns because the track is kind of cut down into the ground. So a driver has to be able to position his car pretty precisely when exiting the turns to keep from hitting the wall. You definitely don't want a loose race car at Dover."

Cicci-Welliver Racing is the all-time leader in series victories at Dover. The team has recorded four wins, including the 1995 win by McLaughlin, which was his first in the series. Bodine swept Dover's events in 1993, and he's not alone in that category.

"Dover is one of my favorite race tracks, if not my favorite one on the entire circuit," said two-time series champion LaJoie, who first won at Dover in a Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring event and who also swept the NASCAR Busch Series events there in 1996. "The track is very demanding. It's not only demanding on the car, but it's demanding on the driver and the crew as well.

"The driver has to be on his toes at all times. It's not like a superspeedway where you have a little extra time to relax. The entry and exit onto pit road is very slick. If you have green flag pit stops, you've got to be extremely careful coming off of the concrete.

"The concrete track makes the chassis difficult to set up, but if you can find the right combination, it's a fun race track."

Buckshot Jones had a great experience last season at Dover when he made his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut with an 8th-place finish in a Stavola Brothers Racing Chevrolet. That performance and his general affinity for Dover's steeply-banked mile led to sponsor Cheez-It designating this weekend's MBNA Platinum 200 as another of the races this season in which Jones would replace regular driver Larry Pearson in Buckshot Racing's No. 00 Pontiac.

"I like running Dover," Jones said. "It is one of my favorite tracks because of the banking and how it fits my driving style. It's a track that has about a groove and a half, but you have to stay on the bottom because if you run too high, you will get passed quickly and lose position."

Ultimately, the challenge is what trips most drivers' triggers when discussing Dover.

"I like Dover because it's fast," said Tim Fedewa, driver of Cicci-Welliver's Stanley Tools Pontiac. "The corners are banked so much that the cars just whip around the track. You drive so far into the corners that it feels like the track falls out from underneath you. Drivers need to race the track at Dover, find the right line getting into the corner and get through the center good, because it is real touchy getting through."

While many teams, such as Bodine's, opt to bring cars used at the other concrete surfaced track the series visits, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, racing circumstances often dictate what a team has to do. Such is the case for Fedewa's outfit.

The No. 36 Grand Prix that the team will unload at Dover is the same car that Fedewa ran at Texas earlier this year. The team originally was going to bring its Lowe's Motor Speedway car, but after an accident last weekend in the CarQuest Auto Parts 300, the team had to make a change.

"This car is going to be a good car for Dover Downs International Speedway," said John Fabian, car chief for the team. "This car has been typically a good middle of the corner car, it responds to change and is aggressive. We made some changes in the nose on the car after Texas and put in some more front downforce, which it will need for Dover. At Dover, you need to find a setup that the car can get into the corner fast and come through the corner with no problems."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Todd Bodine , Kevin Lepage , Buckshot Jones , Mike McLaughlin , Bob Evans