Huston Ladner · Tuesday October 1, 2013
It’s really not all that surprising Jimmie Johnson won at Dover Sunday. Though Charlotte used to be his own personal playground, Dover has easily eclipsed it as being a place where he flat out expects to win. Which really isn’t all that different than Martinsville. Or Fontana. Or anywhere but Michigan. It looks like head wrench Chad Knaus has got things going like he usually does for the Chase.
With much fanfare, Goodyear brought different tires to the Atlanta race. And during that event, the tires actually wore out, meaning both drivers and crew chiefs had to approach things differently. Seems all good, right? Fast forward to Dover, where Johnson, with two fresh tires, was able to hold off Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his four fresh feelgoods. If Earnhardt hadn’t had a stellar ride all day, this fact would be of little consequence. But the truth is that, with a different compound he should have been able to make a race of it with Johnson. Instead, he barely even got to his back bumper.
So, where were these wonderful new tires? It seems strange that something like that, which improves the sport, would be sitting about collecting dust. But hey, the Air Titan does that, too. At least NASCAR has announced that the multi-zone treads will be used at Kansas next week. At least they are going to get used again somewhere…
TWO: Dover at Night
There were some rumblings last week about Dover seeking to hold one of its two races at night. Let’s ignore, for a moment, how empty the stands were and whether or not Dover should, in fact, have two races. Is it possible that holding one of the events at night might help things out? And, just as important, are they financially strong enough to have lights installed by the time they might be needed?
It’s quite possible that moving the Chase race to Saturday evening would help things out. Rather than going against the vaunted NFL, perhaps competing against college football on a Saturday night would be a better idea. However, considering that the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins played on the road Sunday, it’s a little surprising that the track wasn’t able to attract more fans. Perhaps just shaking things up to have what might be an interesting race at night would be a good move. It also might mean that Chad Knaus would have to tinker with his race-winning setups. Now, the question is whether the finances are in place to do so… and whether NASCAR is willing to stick it out with this track long-term.
THREE: Thirteen in The Chase
Does it really matter that there are 13 drivers in The Chase? After just three races, the top three drivers have put themselves a good deal out in front. Think about the fact that the two drivers sitting in fourth place, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, are 39 points back of the leader – nearly a full race. Consider this fact: Kurt Busch had a rather disastrous race at Dover, finishing all of 21st, and he now finds himself 55 points behind the leader.
What this Chase indicates is how well Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Johnson are driving. All three have been mistake free and they’re taking home top positions. That Kenseth finished seventh must almost feel disappointing. Can all three drivers maintain the pace they’ve set at this point? Well, Johnson has shown he can do it (his summer slump all but forgotten, now.) The question is can the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers match him?
FOUR: Debris Cautions
What was that Sunday? For starters, consider it is kind of rare that Dover had little in the way of any carnage. In fact, the most significant issues were related to drivetrains. With a bit of a snoozer in the making, then it’s no surprise that NASCAR felt the need to throw cautions for spring rubbers. Dover is considered a track tough on cars, but having spring rubbers plop out is kind of strange. That aside, did they really need to throw a caution for the one that was laying well out of the racing groove?
With the sport already enduring scrutiny due to the incident at Richmond, one of the things to avoid are those cautions that could be debated. Yes, there actually was debris somewhere near the track, and holy moly, the network actually showed it. But that caution smacked of NASCAR attempting to tighten up the field to make for a more compelling finish. That only 12 cars finished on the lead lap, the least amount this season gives some credence to this notion.
FIVE: Sponsor Roulette
Valvoline is jumping from Roush Fenway Racing to Hendrick Motorsports for 2014. Jimmy John’s is following Kevin Harvick to Stewart-Haas Racing. These are just some of the moves that have been announced recently. But there are still two big pieces of the sponsor puzzle out there that have yet to be completed. First, there’s Earnhardt. At one point, it was announced that they might be acquiring a primary sponsor soon to pair with the National Guard. Instead, that came and went; now, all that has happened is Time Warner Cable will be on his car for a few races. What is it, exactly that’s going on with their sponsorship situation?
And then, there’s NAPA. Are they planning to stay with Martin Truex Jr.? It’s a strange question, because there are rumblings that they might do so, which would mean he’s leaving Michael Waltrip Racing. But that has yet to be decided, owing much to sponsorship issues at MWR itself. Is Truex able to sell himself to another team, with NAPA backing, or is NAPA not planning on remaining in the sport?
These are just two of the more notable sponsor questions right now, meaning there are some interesting moves still to be made off the track as Silly Season winds down.
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