Key Moment – As the field came off its final caution, Jimmie Johnson took off in the middle of the restart box and left race leader Juan Pablo Montoya eating dust. But it was Johnson who couldn’t see through a mental cloud of smoke, according to NASCAR driving for two laps without letting Montoya pass him back. That refusal to relinquish the top spot led to a black flag, throwing away any chance of winning when he’d led 143 laps. Tony Stewart then seized the opening, passed Montoya with four fresh tires and stole his first victory of 2013 in a shocker.
In a Nutshell – Someone needs to show the Monster Mile a psychiatrist. Its day went from depressing, to manic, then finished with an ending so bizarre you thought you were outright hallucinating. At least you can say taking the Gen-6 pill leads to unpredictability at most tracks?
The opening act was an orchestrated ballet between Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, one that could have lasted all 400 miles. But Kenseth’s engine done blowed up on lap 159, then Busch lost the handle slightly after the halfway point, opening the door for Jimmie Johnson. Johnson then took control before his mind had vapor lock on the final restart. Then, the roulette wheel went spinning and landed on a driver in Smoke who’d spent much of the day simply clawing after a top-10 finish. Instead, he got a trophy.
Dramatic Moment – Once JPM had the lead and the laps were winding down, Stewart reeled him in and, with just three laps to go, made a surge on the outside to take the lead and ultimately win the race. It was just the third on-track pass for first place, but it was a doozy.
Some midrace jumbling of positions, through pit strategy led to a traffic jam with 100 to go where it looked like drivers were actually trying. Then, Kasey Kahne spun out and everyone was reminded not to really push it until the final 15 minutes of the day.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Whether it is Joe Gibbs or Toyota Racing Development, something is rotten in Denmark when it comes to the durability of their powerplants. Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex, Jr. and Travis Kvapil, all driving Camrys ended their days early due to sour motors at Dover. Through the first 13 races of the season, there have been 17 Toyota engine failures. Ford teams have seen three engines fail to go the distance while Chevrolet has only reported two. More than three times as many failures through the same number of races would seem that the folks out in California are either pushing the limits or have hired an alcoholic as their shop foreman.
Brad Keselowski finally had the old gang back together this weekend after going through one of his worst slumps in nearly two years. All the members of his pit crew that were suspended over the rear end issue were back on the box Sunday. But whether it was an oversight or just irony, Keselowski failed post-race inspection for being too low, meaning Paul Wolfe, Jerry Kelly, and Brian Wilson may soon be back behind the bars of NASCAR suspension. While the penalties probably won’t be as steep as they were last time, it is a troubling turn of events with the defending champion still winless halfway through the “regular season” and sitting at the back of the top 10.
While Jimmie Johnson ended up not winning the race, the timing of Dover’s first caution seemed highly suspicious based on Johnson’s track position in relation to the leader. Johnson started the race 22nd and was running less than stellar as the first 100 laps ticked towards their conclusion. In fact, on lap 79, Johnson was on the verge of being lapped when the yellow flew for “debris.” The television coverage never showed it and from then on, Johnson was moving forward, not backward.
Speaking of Johnson moving forward, the final restart is most certainly the talk of the series. Juan Pablo Montoya beat Johnson out of the pits after the final round of caution flag pit stops so he had the lane choice and control of the restart. As JPM rolled slowly into the restart zone, Johnson got on the gas and beat Montoya to the line by double digit car lengths. Johnson did slow down but never allowed Montoya to get back in front of him, thus forfeiting the advantage gained by jumping. After a couple of laps, Johnson was informed that he was going to have to do a drive through for jumping the start. Had he taken the opportunity to just slow down and let Montoya have the top spot, he would have been, at worst, battling Stewart for third with the fastest car. It could have been a deficit easily overcome; so why push it? The end result was far worse; he had to take the pass through and ended up one lap down in 17th, his worst finish at the Monster Mile in nine years.
The race saw only 21 lead changes among 11 drivers. While the groove was rather wide early in the Cup race, and the Gen-6 car seemed to handle well from top to bottom, only three of those lead changes were on track. Having one of them happen with three laps to go certainly added to the excitement but, at least through 13 races this season, the promise of closer battles for the lead from this new car is not coming true.
Chris Myers made a comment during the pre-race show that Ryan Newman was not coming back to Stewart-Haas Racing. While it is true that he does not have a contract for next season, there has been no official announcement of his departure. Sloppy reporting by FOX in their finale… even so, with the calendar turning to June, there is probably some pressure turning up under the surface for Newman and that may have played a role in how he handled his issues on track with David Gilliland. If Newman does leave SHR at the end of the season, it may be his last hurrah with a high-profile program. However, if he can win a couple of races and make another Chase, that may be his only shot to stay at SHR or find a better ride for 2014.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is finally starting to look like the changes they made last year are paying off. Changing Competition Director can be a huge step for a racing organization because that is the person who decides the direction of how the race teams organize themselves. Engineering and car preparation can also be dramatically different from one person to the next. When fabricators are suddenly set free to be creative after being restricted for years, it can take awhile to get that creativity heading in the right direction. While Jamie McMurray had a radiator problem that kept him from finishing where he should have, Juan Pablo Montoya brought his Energizer-liveried No. 42 home in the second spot. The flashes of brilliance have been showing up more and more for the Ganassi teams; now, if they can just start finishing where they run…
What was up with Dover’s security snafus? Despite the worst crowd at the Speedway in decades – record warm temperatures certainly didn’t help – lines outside the track were up to 15 minutes long, and counting before racetime. Angry fans started chanting “let us in!” according to a Frontstretch Staffer, taking a weekend off to attend with his son before the “floodgates opened,” complex searches of bags were abandoned and people were siphoned through to their seats. Without that shift, many would not have made it into the track in time to see the green flag. The Speedway later issued an official apology for bungling a more thorough procedure they had been looking to implement “for some time.”
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Ryan Newman had a rough day. Apparently, his steering column was causing his car to unexpectedly turn right on the straightaways. At the same time, he was losing power steering fluid which meant he had intermittent steering. After some time in the pits, Newman was a couple of laps down and racing against David Gilliland for somewhere in the upper 20s. Newman aggressively bumped Gilliland a couple of times before wrecking him off Turn 2 and being collected in the incident himself. Gilliland, for his part showed impressive restraint not busting Newman square in the chops when he climbed out of the car. No one deserves to be dumped like that.
We’ve found the kryptonite for Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing: Toyota Racing Development. His second DNF for engine failure was yet another opportunity at a victory gone to waste. Another victim of that shaky foundation was Martin Truex, Jr. In a bit of cruel irony, as FOX was playing radio chatter between Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston that made it sound like they were ready to make a run at the front, the picture on screen showed smoke beginning to pour out of the exhaust pipes on the No. 56. It’s now six years since the Michael Waltrip Racing driver last won.
Denny Hamlin’s storied comeback to Chase “wild card” contender took a major hit when his right front tire sent him hard into the wall. With 13 races to go before the Chase, Hamlin is sitting 74 points out of the 20th spot in the standings. He will have to make up six points per race over those 13 races to get into the top 20. Looking at the points now, just to give a little perspective to the mountain facing Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 76 points ahead of 20th in points. Earnhardt is sixth. By inference, Hamlin will have to run sixth best in points over the next “half” of the regular season in order to gain the 74 points he’ll need to get to 20th. Even if he does make it to that point, he still needs to win a couple of races, too…
Once again, Kurt Busch seemed to have a car capable of winning, running second to Jimmie Johnson late but was off sequence from the rest with his gas mileage. A green-flag stop, made moments before a yellow flag trapped him a lap down briefly and ruined his victory chances — again. (He wound up 12th).
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
While it might not have been as obvious as some of the other drivers, Paul Menard most assuredly went from the fire back to the frying pan on Sunday. Menard was struggling during the event, nowhere in the top 20 through the first 380 laps, but he buckled down and clawed his way back to 20th when the checkered flag flew. Couple that with Keselowski’s most assuredly pending point penalty and Menard is still solidly in the top 10. With several tracks coming up on the schedule, where Menard usually runs well, he could easily secure a win and a place in the Chase.
Tony Stewart would have never been in position to win without some gutsy pit calls by crew chief Steve Addington, aimed at getting him track position. It would have never happened without the requisite number of cautions falling their way down the stretch.
Clint Bowyer continues to overcome the runner-up points jinx, coming home in sixth after spending almost all day in the upper teens. That kind of result keeps Bowyer a title contender, even without a win to his credit.
Joey Logano was in the Mr. Where Did He Come From role for the second race in a row. Logano took advantage of a Lucky Dog after a flat tire cost him a lap in the middle of the event. He took the final restart in 12th and roared up to a seventh-place finish, giving him back-to-back top 10s for the first time all season. Add in a Dover victory in the Nationwide Series and it was a very successful weekend for the veteran.
- Tony Stewart won his 48th career race this weekend. That puts him two wins away from what used to be the magical 50-win number. While there was little doubt that the only driver to win a Winston Cup, a Nextel Cup and a Sprint Cup would make the Hall of Fame, he is most definitely in after the latest round of inductees was announced. Stewart’s win ties him with Hall of Famer Herb Thomas for 13th on the all-time wins list and leaves him six shy of the top 10 all-time.
- This win is Stewart’s third all-time at Dover and first of 2013.
- Montoya’s second-place finish was his second top 5 of the season, the other being Richmond where he almost won as well. This is his third top-10 finish in the last five races after a dreadful start to the season.
- Jeff Gordon used some pit strategy and good fortune to end up near the front of the pack for the final restart. In the end, he came home third. Gordon ironically has three top-5 finishes this season and they are all third-place results.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. came home 13th, which landed him another Rookie of the Race award over a struggling Danica Patrick.
Top 10 finishes by Manufacturer:
Chevrolet – 5
Toyota – 3
Ford – 2
- For all of the Kyle Busch haters who can’t stand to see him in the 51 Truck beating up on the poor, defenseless Truck drivers, he won’t be in that ride in Texas. Chad Hackenbracht will be making his NCWTS debut in the No. 51 next weekend. Hackenbracht had hoped to do a double, running the Nationwide race in Iowa and the Truck race in Texas, but NASCAR did not like the idea of Hackenbracht missing the driver’s meeting in Texas or practice/qualifying in Iowa. With Hackenbracht not making the start up there, Cole Whitt is supposed to be climbing behind the wheel of the No. 44 Tristar ride in his place.
- Whether it is for good or bad, the FOX portion of the season has come to an end. The next six races will be on TNT before the final 17 races of the season are on ESPN. That means no more Waltrip brothers in the booth.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson could have put a meaningless stranglehold on the pre-Chase points with a win at Dover; still, he remains far out in front after 13 races. Carl Edwards sits in second with one win, 30 points behind Johnson. Thanks to Matt Kenseth’s engine failure, Clint Bowyer jumped to third in the points, 50 out of the top spot. Kenseth’s misfortune has dropped him to fourth, 74 out of the lead and tied with Kevin Harvick.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. managed to overcome an ill-handling car for most of the day to soldier home 10th at Dover. Earnhardt is tied with Johnson and Brad Keselowski for most top 10s in the series and sits sixth in points. Kasey Kahne’s late-race spin hurt his efforts to jump up, slipping two spots to seventh with his one win so far this season. Keselowski is currently sitting eighth, but that is pending any point penalty that will be leveled after his failing post-race tech. Kyle Busch is ninth, tied with Jimmie Johnson for most top 5s in the series with six each. That has allowed him to overcome three DNFs that have plagued him to this point in the season. Rounding out the top 10 in points is Paul Menard, ten points ahead of 11th place Jeff Gordon.
Tony Stewart is the only driver in the top 20 with a win at this point who is not inside the top 10. That earns him the final “wild card” slot.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — The Monster Mile has been known to provide some exciting races, with its multi-groove competition on its high-banked, concrete oval. Sunday was not one of those events. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth ran away from the field early. Then, Jimmie Johnson dominated the second half before he lost his mind on the final restart. Fortunately, we were able to see an actual on-track pass for the lead in the final five laps which salvaged a three-can Hudepohl rating for the race.
Next Up — The series will visit the Tricky Triangle that is Pocono Raceway. While the track was recently repaved, it never devolved into a single-file parade like almost every other facility with new asphalt. You can see it at 1:00 on TNT, this Sunday and listen on MRN.
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