The Charlotte road course and Talladega get most of the attention when it comes to chaotic wildcards in the playoffs, but Dover deserves an equal measure of respect. Narrow front and back straightaways have been the site of several incidents in recent memory.
That can make this a difficult race to handicap.
When chaos doesn’t reign, Dover can be quite predictable at times.
With its high banks and tight radius in the corners, this is a track where drivers can establish a rhythm. Dover is a course where top 10s are rarely isolated. Over the past eight seasons, 23 active drivers entered this weekend having scored 123 top 10s. The vast majority of those were part of consecutive top 10s. Only 14 (11.4 percent) were earned in isolation.
For that reason, fantasy players will want to look closely at this spring’s top 10 finishers when setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.
1. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 4.20) Playoff
After winning his first Cup race in 2007, Truex failed to score another top five at Dover until he won again in fall 2016. Since then, he has swept the top five in four starts. All of these have come after he qualified on one of the first two rows, so Truex’s speed on Friday will give fantasy owners a clue to his potential success on Sunday.
2. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 5.00) Playoff
Last fall, Elliott did not manage traffic very well at Dover. He allowed Kyle Busch to catch and pass him coming to the white flaf, but he is not the same driver in 2018 now that he has a win under his belt. This spring, Elliott failed to finish in the top five for the first time in his Dover career. That came at a time when Chevrolet was struggling nearly everywhere. The manufacturer also seems to have made some changes for the better since then.
3. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 5.67 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Drivers occasionally develop an immediate affinity for a track. Daniel Suarez swept the top 10 at Dover last year as a rookie and improved to third in May. He was the only driver to finish that well who did not become part of the playoff contenders in the Round of 16. Even if he misses the top 10 this week, he is likely to be one of the top point earners among non-playoff drivers.
4. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 7.50 in four starts) Non-Playoff
Kenseth has not been able to back up his pre-hiatus record on any track this year. Roush Fenway Racing still has a lot of work to do before one can assume the No. 6 will finish in the top 15 on a consistent basis, but Kenseth will make a difference if he can. In his last nine Dover attempts, he’s earned six top 10s and another pair of top 15s leaving only one bad result in 2015 when he had a mechanical issue.
5. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 8.80) Playoff
Larson has been almost perfect at Dover in regard to top-10 finishes. In nine starts, he has finished 11th or better eight times. The only time he finished poorly on this track was in fall 2016 when he developed a battery problem that dropped him off the lead lap. After almost failing to advance last week, Larson is going to be hyper-vigilant at Dover.
6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 9.00) Non-Playoff
It has been two years since Johnson earned three consecutive top 10s. Coming off back-to-back eighth-place finishes at Richmond and the Charlotte road course, that is likely to change this week. Dover has always been one of his better tracks with his most recent of 11 wins coming last year. Even while he struggled elsewhere, Johnson was able to score a top 10 at Dover this spring, which gives him a current streak of four at this track.
7. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 12.80) Playoff
Keselowski’s three-year average finish is negatively affected by an accident on Lap 66 of last May’s AAA 400. Otherwise, he has been perfect in regard to top 10s with a best of fourth in fall 2016. Given his strength in the past several weeks, Keselowski could contend for the victory. He won at Dover in 2012 and finished second in both 2014 events.
8. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 13.20) Non-Playoff
Hamlin would not be a very good value if he was still in playoff contention, but since the NASCAR Fantasy Live game requires players to have two drivers that are not eligible for the championship, his four top 10s in the last five Dover races makes him relevant. Hamlin has not finished in the top five on this track since spring 2014.
9. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 15.00) Playoff
An average finish of 15th doesn’t look terribly impressive, but it is only half of Bowyer’s story. From 2011-15, he had a nine-race, top-10 streak going. He followed that up with a pair of top 15s. Bowyer stumbled in back-to-back races in fall 2016 and spring 2017, but he rekindled his top-10 streak last fall. Earlier this year, he finished second to teammate Kevin Harvick in the AAA 400.
9. Erik Jones (three-year average: 15.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Jones’ average finish of 15th is not a recommendation to start him. The sophomore driver has been consistent on this track, but with a best of 12th he has not shown a lot of speed.
Pole Winner: This week’s pole winner is going to be difficult to predict. Qualification was canceled for weather three times in the last 10 Dover races. The other seven were each won by a different driver and only one organization has earned multiple poles in that time. Joe Gibbs earned the pole with Hamlin in spring 2015 and Kyle Busch in spring 2017. Larson led the field to green earlier this year, so keep an eye on him as well.
Segment Winners: Dover is one of many tracks dominated by the Big 3. Truex and Harvick have scored two stage wins apiece and amassed 41 and 36 points respectively. Kyle Busch has not yet won a stage, but has the most stage points with 42.