Before getting into this week’s NASCAR Winston Cup race at Dover Downs, we must congratulate four drivers; all of whom made tremendous strides over the weekend to stamp their marks in the auto racing world.
Ryan Newman won last week at New Hampshire for his first career official victory. He won the non-points All-Star race at Charlotte this year, but after knocking on the door so many times this season, he finally made it happen with a little help from mother nature. Week after week, Newman finds himself with one of the fastest cars and has continued to let the race come to him. Newman is hot right now and should be considered one of the drivers to beat for the remainder of the season.
Mark Martin is a 20-year Winston Cup veteran and new points leader with nine races left. At the beginning of the year, Martin could have been had at 30-1 to win the points championship, and some may have said that was stretching it based on his 2001 performance. Three times he finished on seasonal points. In 9 of 11 seasons from ’89 through ’99 he finished in the Top 5. Martin was all but written off and some were wondering how much he had left. He has definitely answered with a resounding exclamation point.
Sam Hornisch is an IRL driver, who has come a long way since being an Indy Lights driver four seasons ago. After showing signs of possibly being a great driver for an underfunded team, he got the chance of a lifetime when Scott Goodyear left Panther Racing. With a little help from the Chevy engine program and a world class staff, Hornisch became the first driver to win back to back IRL championships last Sunday. The championship this year has much more meaning because he battled the top funded Penske duo of Helio Castro-Neves and Gil de Ferran all season.
Brendan Gaughan won the Craftsman Truck series race at Texas over the weekend for his second career victory. Both have come at Texas this year. The Las Vegas driver was the overwhelming favorite at Station Casinos sports books for that race.
"We opened him at 5-1 because of his success at Texas and familiarity with 1.5 mile tracks," said Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood. "Half of the tickets written for the Texas race were on Gaughan."
Normal odds on Gaughan this season have ranged from 8-1 to 25-1. Next month, Gaughan will be racing in front of his hometown fans when the truck series rolls into Las Vegas. Look for his odds to be around 6-1 to win that race, but get it early because everyone knows most of his practice is done on that track. Gaughan has had several offers to drive in the Busch series over the last two seasons, but doesn’t want to get in the wrong situation with a team that can’t financially compete.
This Sunday at the "Monster Mile" of Dover, rookie Jimmie Johnson (8-1) comes in only 40 points behind Martin. Johnson should feel good about his chances of closing the gap because he dominated the June race there. In the last eight seasons, three drivers have swept Dover on the season, Rusty Wallace (15-1) in ’94, Jeff Gordon (7-1) in ’96, and Tony Stewart (7-1) in ’00.
Martin (12-1) will not just step aside to past accomplishments since he has several of his own impressive Dover achievements. He won three straight Dover fall races from ’97 to ’99. He got involved in an accident in June and finished 41st giving him his worst finish of the year. It’s a new game situation now however.
Newman (8-1) has more Top 5 finishes than anyone on the season. He finished fourth at Dover earlier this year, and is eighth in points. Wins come in bunches and he is the hottest out there.
The roller coaster season of Stewart (7-1) has him only 59 points behind right now and has the advantage over everyone based on his past late season performances. This has always been the time of year he takes it up a notch.
Gordon (7-1) is still just hanging around and hasn’t been able to capitalize on ideal situations. Nevertheless, he still is only 67 points behind in 5th place. Four career Dover wins make Gordon a strong candidate to win again.
I think all the top teams will play it safe and take only what their car gives them. Check out Friday’s first practice time along with Saturday’s Happy times. They will indicate who has the top car. Very likely the winner will be in the Top 5 of each of those times.