The Monster Mile in Dover shares a few characteristics with the short track at Bristol. Each is a steeply banked track that allows drivers to carry momentum hard through the turns, and each has a concrete surface, as opposed to the asphalt on which most races are run. That makes those two tracks kissing cousins, and makes our job of predicting the race this week a little easier, because guys who were good at Bristol back in March are likely to have their Cars of Tomorrow (COT) working well Sunday afternoon. Here's how they finished in March:
Naturally, this running order doesn't tell the entire story. While Richard Childress Racing did post a one-two-three finish, Tony Stewart seemed primed to win the event, but Harvick got too aggressive and smacked into him with two laps left, sending both cars sliding. Stewart took the brunt of the crash (he finished 14th), whereupon his teammate Hamlin, who'd had the day's second-best car, seemed destined to win. But on the race's final restart, Hamlin suffered a fuel-pickup problem for the second straight Bristol race, which allowed five cars to zoom past him in just two laps. While on its face, this running order points to RCR dominance, the fact is that Joe Gibbs Racing combined to lead 372 of 506 laps that day in Bristol (Kyle Busch lost his power steering from the lead halfway through the event).
That would seem to indicate Gibbs might be a smart way to invest for Sunday's race. But I'm about to not follow my own advice.
"Given To Fly" (Featured Elite Drivers)
(Last Race: Carl Edwards, 9th; Kyle Busch, 3rd)
I expect to see Gibbs cars in the mix, because they're in the mix every week. But as we'll see in a minute, at least one of the Gibbs boys (think: Big Orange) has a rough recent history at Dover, and while it's obvious Kyle Busch has a chance to win every week these days, I like the Roush car of Greg Biffle a little bit better. If we look at the five COT events at Bristol and Dover over the past season-plus, The Biff has the best finishing average of any driver on the circuit: 5.6. He was second and sixth at Dover last year, and as I just mentioned, finished fourth at Bristol in March. A top-5 seems like a great bet with Biffle this week, and considering he had a car to win at Darlington before mechanical problems did him in, and he finished second at Charlotte last week, Biffle is due.
I'm also bypassing the Shrub and giving Carl Edwards another nod. He wasn't as strong as I'd hoped in Charlotte (though he was in position to make a late run before a bad Tony Stewart restart caused a chain reaction that got Edwards' front end bashed in), but it's hard to argue with his recent record at Bristol and Dover: He finished first and third at Dover last season, and won at Bristol last fall.
"Rearviewmirror" (Midrange Drivers of Note)
(Last Race: Matt Kenseth, 7th; Brian Vickers, 42nd)
Dover is Martin Truex Jr.'s home track, and he posted his first career Cup victory in this race last season. He didn't challenge for the win in the '07 fall Dover event, but even with a middling car that day, was able to finish 13th. DEI hasn't had winning packages on the downforce-intensive tracks so far this year, but has regularly been strong at mile-long tracks, and this is one of those.
And that assertion segues nicely into my other midrange selection: Truex's DEI teammate, Mark Martin. In the past eight Dover Cup events, Martin has seven top-10 finishes, including a seventh and a fourth in the COT last season. The fact that Almirola ran this exact car at Bristol a few months ago and posted a career-best eighth-place finish only reinforces the notion that the veteran Martin's performance will once again exceed his fantasy price this week.
"Not For You" (Beware Of This Driver)
(Last Race: Travis Kvapil, 26th and Ryan Newman, 21st)
This section of STBC is devoted to finding the guys who, statistically speaking, don't excel on the present week's track and/or track style. I'm not definitively predicting a guy will stink at this week's race; rather, I'm saying there are more consistent fantasy options elsewhere. This week, I'm staying away from Tony Stewart. I know, I know, I just gave you a long explanation about how Stewart deserved to win at Bristol before Harvick wrecked him. But Smoke's recent Dover record is, for him, downright abysmal. He has just one top-10 finish in his past six Cup events at this joint, although it did come last fall. It's not that the No. 20 won't run well; I can almost guarantee that it will. But lately something always just seems to happen to Stewart here. Sometimes it's best not to bet into a losing streak, so I'm going to go with what I perceive as "safer" options this week, and leave Smoke on the sidelines.
"Nothing As It Seems" (Weekly Sleepers)
(Last Race: Mark Martin, 15th; Casey Mears, 29th)
It seems as if Bobby Labonte is showing up near the front later and later in races these days, a prospect which (I hope) means his fantasy fortunes are on the upswing. He finished only 18th and 27th at Dover last year in the COT, but did post an eighth-place finish with the COT at Bristol last fall. It's not as if I think he'll win this race, but I give him a decent chance to finish in the top 15 at a place where true sleepers are going to be few and far between.
Juan Pablo Montoya could also provide nice value this week. He finished 10th at Dover last fall and 15th at Bristol in the spring, which indicates he's starting to get the hang of driving a lumbering stock car at these brake-intensive-yet-high-banked tracks, a combination he never saw in his open-wheel days.
"Off He Goes" (Deep-League Hail Mary)
(Last Race: Paul Menard, 41st)
Last week on our podcast, Mark Garrow presented this conundrum: In ESPN.com's Stock Car Challenge, the season's first segment had just ended, and driver salary-cap values had been entirely recalculated. That meant drivers like David Ragan and Brian Vickers, two guys on whom I was high from Daytona forward, would no longer be available at super-bargain prices. So Garrow asked me: Who did I think was undervalued, now that new dollars had been assigned to each driver? My answer was David Reutimann. Reutimann is still owned in only 18.5 percent of Fantasy Stock Car leagues, and his default price in the Stock Car Challenge is just $15.7 million, 29th among all Cup drivers. But I really like the way the No. 44 has looked lately, including his 10th-place finish last week. Reutimann qualified for only the fall Dover race last year, but did finish 14th. Clearly, if you can get a 14th-place finish out of the 29th-most-expensive driver, you're getting a bargain. I'm hoping Reutimann duplicates that effort Sunday.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.