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Statistically Speaking

Start or Park: Gander 400

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 5, 2018, 6:11 pm ET

Nearly everyone worked on qualification trim in Friday’s only practice session and then an unexpected weather pattern rolled in and canceled that session. We know little more this afternoon than we did before the cars hit the track.

What we do know is that the playoff contenders will all line up at the front of the pack with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick making up the front row. They got there by being the dominant drivers during the regular season.

Rain canceling qualification might have been a boon for Busch. He posted only the 19th fastest time in Friday morning’s session – and might have struggled to find his single lap of speed. Harvick had the second-fastest lap of 163.451 mph, which was more than a tenth of second slower than Kyle Larson’s 164.444 mph.

Level 1

Start: Kyle Larson
With seven top-10s in nine starts at Dover, Kyle Larson has been on our radar screen all week. Only four of these were top-fives, however, and that kept him from being a favorite to win. In his brief time on the track, he showed remarkable speed, however, after taking only one lap in Friday’s session. He has not yet won at Dover, but earned second-place finishes in 2016 and last year – both in spring events.

Start: Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott led the most laps in this race last year and appeared to be on his way to a career-first victory. He got a little too tentative in traffic and let Kyle Busch catch and pass him. He won’t make that same mistake this time if he is in a similar situation. Elliott finished second in that race to keep a perfect streak of top-fives alive. This spring, he slipped to 12th in the midst of some serious struggles at Chevrolet. If you’re lucky, that will make your competition discount his odds.

Park: Joey Logano
We waved a red flag over him at the beginning of the week and Joey Logano has done nothing to change our mind. With speed of 161.703 mph, he had the slowest car among the playoff contenders: .371 seconds slower than Larson. He should be able to find a little more speed on Saturday and no one expects him to finish 21st – which is where he landed on Friday’s speed chart – but it seems unlikely he is going to challenge for a top-five.

Level 2

Start: Jimmie Johnson
This week in the Dover media center, Jimmie Johnson was unapologetic about his last lap move on Martin Truex Jr., saying “my desire to win has never been stronger.” His priority is to get this team faster not just for the remainder of this season, but for 2019 as well. It appears this team is finally turning a corner – and being eliminated from the playoffs might be a blessing in disguise. They can now concentrate on the individual task at hand each week and stop thinking about the big picture.

Start: Daniel Suarez
Since Daniel Suarez posted the 10th-best time in Friday’s practice, we can assume he was going to be strong in qualification as well. At the beginning of this week, we said that would be a sign of his potential for the race since his three previous top-10 finishes all came after he started among the top 10. His raw speed is confirmed by teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, who landed seventh and eighth on the speed chart respectively.

Park: Aric Almirola
Drivers who go through something as dramatic as Aric Almirola experienced last week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, often struggle in their next race. The driver of the No. 10 experienced an emotional roller coaster that ended with him on a high point, but it might also have drained him. That would not be a concern if he had more speed on Friday or a better record at Dover, but with the 16th fastest time in practice and just three top-10s in 12 starts on this track, he can be left in the garage.

Level 3

Start: Regan Smith
Regan Smith is unlikely to catch anyone by surprise, but if he is still a cheap option in your salary cap games or if you are playing an allocation management strategy, he will be very useful. The only time he has struggled at all this year was when he ran into trouble at Richmond. There is a niggling doubt, however, because two of his last three attempts at Dover ended on the hook.

Start: Matt Kenseth
He has not been able to match his career record on any track this season, but Matt Kenseth is still one of the best options at Dover. He has eight top-15 finishes there in his last nine starts. Six of these were seventh-place results or better. If he can stay on the lead lap in the beleaguered No. 6, he should be able to easily finish in the mid-teens.

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.