Forget the big statue of a monster that stands behind Dover International Speedway -- the real beast is inside, in the form of a mile-long concrete oval that can be as punishing as any track on the NASCAR circuit.
Yes, they call it the "Monster Mile" for a good reason, one that will have the drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on high alert as the series again visits the Delaware capital this weekend. Dover is physical, Dover is unforgiving, Dover can take one car and toss it into the air or chew up a dozen of them at a time. The combination of high speeds, narrow straightaways, dizzying banking and a "self-cleaning" effect that sends everything to the bottom can result in absolute mayhem, as seen so many times since the facility first opened in 1969.
So be warned, Chase drivers -- few tracks in the playoff are as capable of taking as big a bite out of a competitor's championship aspirations. No question the nickname fits, as evidenced in the 10 most monstrous moments in the history of the Monster Mile.
10. Into the wall, fall 1993
"It's a place where you never have a soft hit," Jeff Burton once said of Dover, and that was evident when Mark Martin blew a right-front tire there in 1993. It's the huge, multi-car accidents that garner much of the attention, but even single-car crashes can be bone-jarring -- as Martin experienced when his No. 6 car went straight into the wall in the days before the SAFER barrier, flattening the right-front corner and causing a fire to erupt from a broken fuel line. With no brakes, Martin had to wait for the car to roll to a stop, and dark smoke was billowing from the vehicle by the time he climbed out. "Got a little warm, but it's OK," he told Glenn Jarrett of TNN. The same couldn't be said of his car.
9. Newman vs. Gilliland, spring 2013
In a drama that would eventually become overshadowed by the jump-the-restart controversy that denied Jimmie Johnson a chance to win the race, Ryan Newman and David Gilliland ended up in a pile of crumpled race cars at the bottom of the track. Newman used his front bumper to send a series of not-so-subtle messages to Gilliland that he wanted to get around, and the last one was emphatic enough to wreck both vehicles. An angry Gilliland scrambled out and leaned into the window of the No. 39 car, and Newman tried to explain himself using a series of hand gestures. The two agreed to disagree, to say the least.
8. Trouble on the backstretch Part 1, spring 2008
If there's going to be trouble at Dover, it's usually found exiting Turn 2. The cars storm out of that corner at a very high rate of speed, and often don't have enough time to react to something gone awry in front of them. Because of the track's banking, accidents usually slide down to the bottom, which is what everyone expected in June of 2008 when Elliott Sadler got into Gilliland. Except this time the mess stayed high, and drivers one after another -- Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Scott Riggs, and others -- plowed into it, creating a bottleneck that ultimately claimed 11 cars.
7. Trouble on the backstretch Part 2, spring 2012
Dover's sunken trench of a backstretch was turned into a salvage yard again four years later, when Stewart got into Landon Cassill, Regan Smith got into Stewart, all three cars went sideways, and all heck broke loose behind them. In the rush to get slowed down behind the primary accident, Michael McDowell was turned, and suddenly two smaller crashes merged into one very large one. The result was a 12-car melee just nine laps into the race that required a red flag period of nearly 20 minutes to clean up.
6. Stewart vs. Busch, spring 2007
Sometimes events don't have to be spectacular to have a lasting impact. That was certainly the case at Dover in 2007, when Tony Stewart spun Kurt Busch in a rain-delayed Monday race, and the then-Penske driver responded by pulling right up alongside Stewart on pit road to voice his displeasure. NASCAR wasn't happy with how close Busch's car came to Stewart's jack man, and responded with a penalty that included a 100-point deduction. Busch later apologized, but only after Stewart called him one of the sport's "bad apples." Oh yeah, and beginning next season, they're teammates.
5. Last man standing, fall 1993
Martin's fiery crash was only one snapshot from a calamitous race at Dover two decades ago, which exemplified just how unforgiving the track can be. Sixteen cautions stretched the event to nearly five hours, and left 18 cars with some kind of damage. Over 20 percent of the race was run under caution, dropping average speed to a languid 100 mph. No one was spared -- when Hut Stricklin struggled to get up to speed on a restart, a number of contenders including Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Ricky Rudd were knocked out. "I still think the pace car has a good shot at it," Mike Joy deadpanned on the television broadcast. Rusty Wallace edged it out for the win.
4. Spencer vs. Dallenbach, fall 1996
Is this Dover, or Bristol? It certainly seemed like the latter after a yet another big crash in 1996, this one that bathed the fronstretch in smoke. Wally Dallenbach pinched Jimmy Spencer up into the wall, both cars rolled down to the apron, and then the action really began. "He's got problems with Wally," TV announcer Eli Gold said as Spencer jumped from his vehicle and ran over to the No. 15 car, where he began reaching through the window net at Dallenbach. It took a few NASCAR officials (including current Nationwide Series director Wayne Auton) to pull Spencer away, though the two kept jawing at one another a while longer.
3. Sideways and stacked up, spring 1995
This one went wrong in a hurry, leading to one of the biggest crashes ever seen at Dover -- or anywhere, for that matter. John Andretti started fourth, and was challenging Sterling Marlin for the lead at the end of the opening lap when his car suddenly broke loose off Turn 4. He spun around into Ricky Craven, who spun around into Joe Nemechek, and then there was smoke and wrecked cars everywhere as one vehicle piled into another. Eighteen cars were involved, many of them collecting in a mass at the pit wall, and Andretti was carried off with a cut ankle. "This looked like one of those Talladega crashes," Joy said on TV. But an even bigger one was yet to come.
2. The Little Big One, spring 2004
The leader restarting in the middle of the pack, cars going three-wide, that nefarious backstretch again -- everything that could go wrong did, and the result was a pileup to rival anything on a restrictor-place track. Michael Waltrip barely nipped Dave Blaney as cars ran three abreast through the corner, but it was enough to send Blaney spinning up into the wall. He ricocheted down, and Jimmie Johnson had nowhere to go but into him. Johnson slammed into Blaney, Greg Biffle slammed into Johnson, and Ward Burton slammed into Biffle in what quickly became a chain-reaction accident on an epic scale. Vehicles went everywhere, like ants scurrying on an overturned hill. "Half the field, it looks like," TV analyst Larry McReynolds said. Close -- it was 19 cars knocked out in a single blow.
1. Logano takes a tumble, spring 2009
And yet, the single most monstrous moment in Dover history wasn't a huge pileup, but a hold-your-breath incident focused on a single car. A little bump from Stewart sent then-rookie Joey Logano up the banking in Turn 3, and physics did the rest. Going high to try and avoid the crash, Reed Sorenson hit Logano. Then Robby Gordon slammed into Sorenson, and the force was enough to send Logano's vehicle tumbling down the 24-degree banking. The orange No. 20 rolled eight times, shredding pieces along the way, teetering on the driver's side before landing on all four wheels with a thud.
"Oh my gosh. I'm OK," Logano told his relieved crew over the radio. The car was a complete loss, its front and back ends ripped to pieces, its hood and roof dented from a nearly three-story drop. But the driver walked away to robust cheers from the crowd, and would be back to battle the Monster Mile another day.
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