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Saturday, June 2, 2012
Monster Mile lives up to its name

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

DOVER, Del. -- Most drivers would tell you Darlington is the hardest track to drive in NASCAR. They don't call it "the track too tough to tame" for nothing.

And they don't call Dover the "Monster Mile" for nothing. If you're looking to spice things up, this just might be the place.

The treacherous 1-mile oval would be No. 2 on the list for many drivers as a track that makes them work for everything they get.

"This place will chew you up and spit you out," Carl Edwards said Friday. "It's a very difficult track, and you can't make a mistake."

Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards knows the monster can get you at any time at Dover International Speedway.

Edwards learned that lesson the hard way the first time he raced at Dover as a Camping World Truck Series rookie in 2003.

"I had raced it on computer videos and was feeling pretty confident," Edwards said. "My first 20 laps of practice were awesome. I thought, 'Man, I've got this place. This isn't so bad.'

"Then I promptly hit the wall so hard I thought I broke my ribs. I hit it a ton. I destroyed the truck. And eight laps into the race in my backup truck, I wrecked Jason Leffler and me right into the wall."

At that point, Edwards was happy to learn that team owner Jack Roush was a patient man.

"I thought Jack was going to fire me," Edwards said. "I just didn't respect this place and what it could do to you."

Edwards now has one Cup victory and three Nationwide Series wins at Dover, but he never takes for granted the danger of a track like no other, a high-banked concrete oval with a tight pit road.

Matt Kenseth, Edwards' teammate, feels the same way.

"It's a track that challenges you every single lap, even when you're racing by yourself," said Kenseth, who won here one year ago. "You can't let your guard down, but that makes it fun. You really have to focus and concentrate to get fast laps around here."

No one does it better at Dover than Jimmie Johnson, who starts on the front row Sunday with pole-winner Mark Martin. Johnson has six victories on the Monster Mile, including three of the last six races.

"It takes time to figure this place out," Johnson said. "But I like it because the driver can make a difference here. You never are really comfortable, but it fits my driving style."

Johnson has seven top-10s (including five top-5s) in the last eight races at Dover. So what's his secret?

"We have seen some trends that a successful Charlotte means a successful Dover," Johnson said. "So we set the car up the way we do a lot of our 1.5-mile stuff.

"But the design of the track and the transition into the corners are different than anywhere else we go. To run a fast lap here you have to be committed. And it gets tougher as the race progresses because rubber builds [on the track] and it knocks the car loose, almost as if you are racing across ice."

Jimmie Johnson We have seen some trends that a successful Charlotte means a successful Dover. So we set the car up the way we do a lot of our 1.5-mile stuff.

-- Jimmie Johnson

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has one victory at Dover, but that was 11 years ago. He has finished 20th or worse in 10 of his last 14 starts here.

"I don't really like concrete tracks at all," Earnhardt said Friday. "I like the shape here. If it were asphalt, it probably would be one of my favorite tracks. I've had good cars here and I've had some tough runs here. There are bumps getting into Turn 3 and the rear tires sort of skate across them. That's always difficult."

Martin Truex Jr., who grew up in nearby Mayetta, N.J., considers Dover his home track. His only Cup win came here in 2007. He's also started on the pole at Dover twice in the last four races.

"The biggest challenge is the transition to the corner," Truex said. "If you're an inch off in your entry, you're six inches off in the center and two feet off on the exit. It's very different because things happen so fast.

"It can be very unforgiving. You really have to be ahead of the car at all times. But this place has always been special to me. I've always loved it."

Don't count Denny Hamlin among the Dover lovers. He has four top-10s here, but he also has finished 36th or worse four times.

"When rookies want suggestions about a track, this is not one where they look towards me," Hamlin said Friday. "I am mediocre here at best. I just don't have a good feel for the place."

Kyle Busch, Hamlin's teammate, has two victories at Dover in the last four seasons. He says there's no middle ground at this track.

"It will scare you the first time you race here," Busch said. "It's definitely a roller-coaster ride. There are two ways it works out at Dover. You can be really, really good or really, really bad."