Dover International Speedway is a one-mile race track. Its measurement in length, however, is virtually the only thing it has in common with other one-mile racing facilities around the country.
Dover is distinguished by speed – big speed. The track qualifying record is 161.522 miles per hour, set eight years ago by Jeremy Mayfield.
For comparison, the qualifying records at tracks of similar length are slow – 137.279 at Phoenix International Raceway and 135.232 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Dover puts up the big numbers because it is remarkably fast for a one-mile track, and the reasons can be found on either end of the facility – 24-degree banking in the turns.
Drivers fly into the turns at alarming speeds and then drop off onto the nine-degree banking of the front and back straights, a process some describe as dropping into a canyon.
That test will arrive for 400 more laps for Sprint Cup drivers Sunday in the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks race, the first of two races this season at Dover.
The unique landscape of the track has befuddled many drivers over the years.
"Dover – I still haven't figured out what it takes to go fast there,” said Denny Hamlin. “I've not had very good success at that race track since I've been in the Cup series. I've had a couple of second and third-place runs, but haven't really been that competitive at Dover.
“It's a track that you carry a ton of speed at. You make one small mistake, and it magnifies it greatly."
Hamlin is winless in 12 Cup races at Dover. He has driven 4,116 laps at the track and has led only 61.
Two of the three current drivers with the most success at Dover wear Hendrick Motorsports colors. Jimmie Johnson owns six wins, and Jeff Gordon has four. Mark Martin also has four Dover wins.
Gordon has 21 top-10 finishes in 38 races at Dover, but he hasn’t won at the track since 2001.
“It’s a very fast race track,” Gordon said. “It’s a challenging race track. Our team has always excelled at the tracks that are the most challenging. We haven’t been successful there recently, but I do think that certain teams and driver combinations get on a roll at certain tracks. That was one where we really got on a roll.
“I always go back to when you find something that works, if there are very little changes, it can work for a long period of time. That’s kind of what we went through in the late ’90s. We’re kind of in that place again now where things haven’t changed for a little while, so I think the same guys who have been running good, you’re going to see continue to run good. So many things have changed since I ran good there that we’ve been constantly looking for that combination to get back to our winning ways.”
Two rounds of Sprint Cup practice at scheduled at Dover Friday – 11 a.m. ET and 2:45 p.m.
Qualifying is scheduled at noon Saturday, and the race is set for the green flag at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.