Rage Against the Monster Mile: AAA 400 Preview
Am I the only one getting that feeling that this is becoming a four car Chase? After two weeks of solid, if unspectacular racing at Chicagoland and Loudon, we enter the AAA 400 at Dover with the prospects that this may not be as competitive of a Chase as some of us fans (and the drivers) believed. If I didn’t know any better, it would seem to me that the NASCAR playoff resembles the NFL Playoffs, only without the overrated games, done to death storylines, and an evil group of overlords looking over the entire sport while making confusing decisions. OH WAIT A MINUTE!
With all that said, I get the feeling that we may have a shake up this weekend. Don’t ask me why, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things completely reverse, with the top dogs suddenly taking a step back while the bottom feeders suddenly change their fortunes. Of course, this feeling wasn’t enough to convince me to go against rhyme and reason when predicting this race, but I thought it was worth mentioning. But enough about my feelings; on with the show!
AAA 400 Preview
13. Kasey Kahne: Let’s not sugar coat this one; Kahne’s chase hopes look very bleak right now after wrecking at Loudon last weekend. He’ll need a great performance here to at least have a shot, but with the worst overall track record of any Chase driver at Dover (only one top five and six DNFs in 19 races there) and the second worst starting position, it’s grimmer than Val Kilmer’s career prospects.
12. Clint Bowyer: The only Chase contender who qualified worse than Kahne, The Fixer will now have to race his way up at a track where he’s not exactly dynamite (his 12.7 average finish is misleading, as he’s only had one top five at Dover in his career). Of course, the way the last several weeks have worked out for Bowyer, it’s likely he’ll somehow manage to sneak up to the front at some point and score a good finish. Seriously, is there anyone else who has done so much wrong only to suffer no consequences for it?
11. Kurt Busch: The Elder Busch followed up a so so run at Loudon with a great qualifying run at Dover. It’s also interesting to note that Kurt’s last win in NASCAR was at this very race two years ago. The problem; beyond his one win he’s never been great here, scoring the second lowest average finish among Chase drivers here (18.1) including 6 DNFs and no finishes above 12th in the last three races. Add that to the still shaky pit crew, and I just can’t see good things for Kurt this weekend.
10. Jeff Gordon: This is a tough one for me, as Gordon has been awesome at Dover over the years, posting a very solid 11.8 average finish, with four wins, and a very impressive sixteen top five finishes. Of course, he also had an impressive track record at Loudon, which ultimately meant nothing last week when he finished a disappointing 15th. That, in addition to starting 16th on Sunday leads me to believe that the former Rainbow Warrior will resemble more of the inconsistent driver we saw this year than the one whose dominated at this track. You won’t fool me this time Gordon!
9. Joey Logano: Saying you’re optimistic about someone who you’re predicting to be the fifth worst driver of the weekend probably feels as right as calling Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 a modern day classic. And yet, I’m feeling optimistic about Logano this weekend. He has only raced at Dover nine times, but has scored five top tens and his lack of experience could be a sign that he can show improvement here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished well here, although I’d feel much more confident saying that if he had qualified better than 11th.
8. Greg Biffle: I’m sorry, I can’t by The Bif yet as a serious contender. I know he’s finished well the first few races, has a good track record at Dover (two wins and an average finish of 12.5) and has made it to 5th in the points, but this is still the same guy who every year manages to disappoint the further we go into the Chase. With a very poor starting position of 19th this Sunday, I expect we’ll see the beginning of that trend once more. Of course, I’m also the same guy who said Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth would disappoint in this Chase and that Jeff Gordon would win last week at Loudon. The Bif is probably hoping I keep him this low the rest of the way now!
7. Ryan Newman: Like last week, qualified really well (3rd this week) and is once again at a track where he has been successful in the past (his three wins are the third most at this track among Chase contenders). Now he just needs to avoid having a disappointing finish the same way he did last week, when he went from the pole to 16th by the end of the race. If not, I’m not sure Newman is good enough to remain in contention that much longer.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Perhaps the most shocking development of the Chase has been Junior discovering his pulse and (gulp!) somehow giving himself a chance to maybe have a chance. Not only did Junior surprise people with a great finish last week (6th) but he followed it up with an even more surprising pole this week, at a track that he hasn’t exactly been Jimmie Johnson at (average finish of 17 with one win). I need to see Junior win before I believe he can be a contender, but it’s nice to see him at least making strides towards it. Plus, if the thought of Mike Helton getting excited over the possibility of the Chase coming down to Jimmie Johnson and Junior doesn’t bring a smile to your face, you must be either Ty Norris, a fan of Darrell Waltrip’s commentary, or the director of the Twilight movies.
5. Kevin Harvick: Not the best track for Harvick here, where he has only three top fives and surprisingly no wins. Hell, he didn’t qualify that great either, with an unspectacular 12th. So why is he up here? Just a feeling I suppose. That and the fact that Harvick seems due for one of those last second victories that come out of nowhere and leave you feeling like you just watched the Cubs finish in last place again. Not that I’m speaking about myself of course.
4. Kyle Busch: I’m still not feeling the greatest about Kyle, but two second place finishes to start the Chase have convinced me that he’ll be a contender for the foreseeable future. He should be feeling very good heading into Dover, where he’s won twice, and has a very solid average finish of 13.3. I’m simply excited that I could see Busch being the Tony Stewart to Matt Kenseth’s Carl Edwards, or (and more likely) the Edwards’ to Kenseth’s Stewart.
3. Jimmie Johnson: Another week, another time when Jimmie Johnson is the third favorite going into the weekend. Frankly he should be higher; no one has been better at Dover than Johnson, whose resume includes sixteen top tens, eleven top fives and an unbelievable SEVEN WINS! If Johnson was running better, he would be a shoe in for the top spot. Alas, I need to see a bit of the old Jimmie Johnson before I put him ahead of the guys in front of him for this weekend. I will now brace for Mike Helton’s wrath.
2. Matt Kenseth: So much for a fall off in the Chase for Kenseth. He’s now one win away from putting the entire competition in the sleeper hold. Don’t be surprised to see him do it too; he’s been fantastic at Dover, with two wins and eighteen top tens over his career. He’d be a major contender even if he hadn’t won the last two races. At this point, he’ll need to drastically fall off this weekend for me not to put him in the top five every week from here on in.
1. Carl Edwards: I know, I know; how can Consistent Carl be the favorite for this weekend over a guy who always wins at Dover (Johnson) and the man who started the Chase off with two straight wins (Kenseth)? Simple; no one has a better finish at Dover than Carl, including Johnson, whose 9 just doesn’t quite beat Edwards’ 8.6. Unlike last week, he also qualified better (4th), and has worked his way up to the point that he’s quietly lurking in the points at 4th. This will be the week that Consistent Carl pounces and puts himself right into the conversation with Kyle, Johnson and Kenseth.
Race Winner: Carl Edwards (get ready to backflip guys!)
Points Leader: Matt Kenseth (short of a disaster, he’ll finish well enough to maintain his points lead)
Projected Chase Standings:
1. Matt Kenseth
2. Carl Edwards
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kyle Busch
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Ryan Newman
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Greg Biffle
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Joey Logano
11. Kurt Busch
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Kasey Kahne
Till next week!