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Hamlin, Edwards on opposite ends of Chase

Last Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway was important for two drivers on opposite sides of the Chase standings: Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards. Hamlin, the leading points earner during the 10-event Race to the Chase, capitalized on the momentum with a runner-up finish at New Hampshire a week ago. He came into Dover last weekend third in points, 35 behind leader Mark Martin. Hamlin was not looking forward to facing Dover’s “Monster Mile,” a track that has been less than kind to Hamlin thus far in his young career.

In fact, Dover ranks at the very bottom of the list in terms of driver rating for Hamlin, and it may be even more important as the Chase moves forward to crown this year’s Sprint Cup Champion. Of the final nine tracks, three rank as Hamlin’s worst: Dover, Kansas and Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Hamlin had four consecutive Dover finishes outside the top 35 going into last Sunday’s race, including a last place finish in the June race last year. On the other end of the spectrum is Carl Edwards, who dropped to 11th in the points after a 17th place in the Chase opener at New Hampshire. He now trails Mark Martin by 113 points. But as bad as Hamlin has been at Dover, Edwards has been strong. Dover ranks as Edwards’ third best track in the series, behind Homestead-Miami and Michigan. Two additional Chase contenders came into Dover looking to get their Chase drives in gear after disappointing finishes at New Hampshire. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon lost positions in the standings after the first race of this year’s engine at New Hampshire and finished a disappointing 38th, dropping him from fifth to the 12th and final place in the Chase. With just nine races to catch the high-flying Mark Martin, a good showing at Dover was very important. “I think Dover is great,” Kahne said at a press conference last week. “I used to like it a little more when the tire would fall off and you could move all over the race track. It doesn’t seem like we run quite as high these days. But definitely a good track, a tough track, and a fairly long race.”
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon did not start the Chase like his two Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, who sit first and second in the points, respectively. He finished 15th at New Hampshire, falling four spots in the standings from sixth place to 10th. But Gordon is one of the most successful active drivers at Dover. He’s tied with Johnson and Martin for the most wins; each has conquered the “Monster Mile” four times. Gordon also has 14 top fives, 20 top tens and four poles in 33 starts at Dover. Gordon sat on the pole last year and leads all drivers with laps lead at Dover.
Kansas Speedway hosts the third stop on this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Price Chopper 400, presented by Kraft Foods. What a mouthful — try to say that four times fast. I guess if the sponsor writes a big enough check, they’ll call it whatever they want. Last October’s winner at Kansas was Jimmie Johnson, scoring his first ever-win at the 1.5 mile track. It also was car owner Rick Hendrick’s series leading third win there. Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with two wins, five top fives, and six top tens at Kansas.

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