The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Sprint Cup Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday June 3, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Sprint Cup Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday June 3, 2013


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.

And your 2013 Dover winner is… Tony Stewart? Even Smoke himself was surprised to be standing atop Victory Lane when the dust settled.

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.

IndyCar never seems to have a problem showing us actual debris on the racetrack. So why can’t their racing cousins follow suit?

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 longshot Chase dreams are in trouble after a promising day ended with a blown tire and a trip into the outside wall.

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.

Worth Noting

  • 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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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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06/03/2013 02:50 AM

Hmmm nice smart aleck comment about “the Kyle Busch haters who can’t stand to see him beat up the poor defenseless Truck drivers”. Well genius, I believe most of the folks that are tired of seeing cup driver dominance aren’t necessarily Kyle haters, they’re just sick and tired of them stinking up the series. I don’t care which cup driver decides to step down a series or two for an ego boost and a cheap win I think it’s bad for the sport. Now if you think Kyle being almost a sure bet to win each week in both truck and busch series is good racing and good for the sport, well I’m sure you’re in the minority. If the empty seats mean anything, the fans have had enough of the silliness of the cup drivers with cup teams dominating.

Bill B
06/03/2013 07:06 AM

I was at Dover and fortunately went into the track about 2 & 1/2 hours before the race. It took about 5 minutes to get into the track. I looked at the line to get in about an hour before the green flag and it stretched a quarter mile or so at each entrance. I was told it took about an hour to get in. I am all for good security but surely something could have been done better. First time I ever saw them use metal detectors. Perhaps that was the difference.

Yes a boring race but it was all made bearable by the fact that Johnson got black flagged at the end. You should have seen the high-fives and cheers when NASCAR made the call.
Once again I must beat on the same drum that I do every week:
NASCAR’s fake debris cautions SUCK. The wave arounds SUCK. And the double file restarts SUCK.

Regarding that first debris caution that saved Johnson from going a lap down, does anyone remember how many cars were on the lead lap when the fake caution was thrown. It seems like 20 is the usual number. I wasn’t sure how many since the pylon at Dover only shows the top 15. So I was just wondering.

06/03/2013 07:52 AM

i was shocked when nascar actually black flagged johnson. happy though, but shocked.

watched beginning of race, went and did things around the house and came back with about 45 laps to go. yawn….that’s all this season is about. same people up front week in and week out. nice to see someone different up front at the end of the race.

wonder if the high humidity had anything to do with the engine failures and not getting enough air into the engines? pocono is another track notorious for high humidity.

Carl D.
06/03/2013 08:08 AM

When we got the “Mystery Jimmie Debris” caution, I told my wife we would never see the actual debris and I was right. When Johnson jumped the restart I told her Nascar would let it stand and I was wrong. But I was glad I was.

Tony Freakin’ Stewart? I never saw that one coming. Here’s to the end of one 30-race winless streak and hopefully the start of another one.

Tony (above) is dead-on in his comments about the cup guys destroying the Nationwide and Truck series. Nascar claims that having these guys in the races helps attendance. The empty grandstands tell the real story.

I was glad to see Newman and Gilliland take their helmets off and have a heated but civil discussion about their wreck. No helmet slapping and no grade-school temper tantrums.

06/03/2013 08:57 AM

I actually forgot about the race and when I turned it on I heard Larry Mac talking about the #48 leading and laughed and turned the TV off and went to play golf.

So today I read that the 48 got a nice debris caution…no surprise there. But I’m totally SHOCKED that he was black flagged on the restart. Something that HE complained about before with other drivers.

Interesting that Kez fails another inspection. Maybe not surprising….

06/03/2013 09:04 AM

Bill B, I don’t even watch the nationwide races unless they’re stand alone races. In my mind, it’s a forgone conclusion that a cup driver will win the races. That goes for a lot of the truck races too. As for the cup race at Dover, the first half of the race was pretty boring. I watched the Giants-Cardinals game. This former nas$car fanatic would have never done that ten years ago. I turned back to the race and caught the last few laps.

06/03/2013 09:04 AM

I see both sides of the cup drivers in the lower series. The competition makes the developing drivers better. But Hornaday, Crafton, Gaughn are not ‘developing’?

But, there is this pool tournament at a VFW I would likely win every week if I go. My father-in-law loves for me to go with him and win. I personnally get a bad feeling when I go and win because I’m taking something from the ‘regulars’. So I only go once every couple of months to see my father-in-law…And the locals like me.

06/03/2013 09:59 AM

Official apology? Who did they make that to – I sure didn’t get one. We’ve been going to Dover for the past 10 years – if they wanted to give us a reason to not go to another race there, we got it with that screwup. We got in line for the gates at 12:00 – 15 minutes is an understatement – it took 45 minutes for us to finally get into the track and we spent that whole time standing in the broiling hot sun – every gate was backed up. Uncalled for and stupid on the part of the track. I’m surprised more people weren’t having heat issues. It didn’t look as if there was any “extra” security measures – other than some guy at our gate who was wanding people (ineffectively). The real problem appeared to be NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE to inspect bags.

Honestly for the large part of the race, it was a snoozer. There was some passing as the cars that had started further back, finally got their acts together and moved up. BTW, about the first debris caution that allowed Johnson to stay on the lead lap – the TV didn’t show it because no one at the track did either. Same thing with the 2nd one, NASCAR needed for people to not fall asleep or leave, so they bunched the field.

Danica almost caused 2 wrecks in 4 laps. Finally she pitted and I guess they got whatever was wrong corrected because at least after that she wasn’t a menace on the track.

I really wondered what the heck Johnson was doing on that restart – I didn’t think for a few minutes that they were going to black flag him for it.

John Potts
06/03/2013 11:50 AM

I think Juan Pablo (who I’m beginning to like more and more), pulled an old short track trick by not accelerating with Johnson on that last restart.

On a short track when yellow laps aren’t being scored, and when the starter is in control, a competent starter simply doesn’t go green, or throws the green and then turns on the yellow for another try.

If it happens three times and you have to warn them, you warn them depending on who you think the offending party is. In this case, I really believe it was Johnson. The leader has the option of setting the pace, and any short tracker will tell you that if the other guy takes off, you just maintain your pace. If you try to catch up with him or her, the starter will likely think you had a problem and let it go.

Part of the problem is the fact that they’ve taken it out of the starter’s hands. “Just wave the flags, we’ll make the calls.” That might work on those big tracks, but when you have a maximum of 15 seconds to make a decision, it doesn’t. You can’t wait for a jury to come in.

As to double-wide restarts, I don’t like ‘em on any track because I think they penalize the second place car. It’s put in the lesser-desired groove and is likely to lose one or two positions.

Bill B
06/03/2013 12:07 PM

And on top of the long line what was really amazing was there seemed to be even less people in the stands than normal (if that’s possible anymore). What would they have done if the crowd (which I estimated to be, maybe, 40% of capacity) had of been larger. And you are right, 15 minutes is total PR spin. It was an hour if it was a minute. From the upper deck looking down, I could still not see the end of the line when the national anthem was playing.

John Potts, all you have to do is look at Martinsville. Would you rather start 6th (3rd row) on the outside or 11th (6th row on the inside)? If the answer is 11th then something is very wrong with the rule. To hell with what makes it more interesting for the fans to watch, the question should always be what is fairer to the competitors. This is a sport damn it, not reality television.

06/03/2013 12:12 PM

you know, after reading the comments here every week, and i say the same thing about the “quality of racing”….you’d think some of the “spies” that na$car has monitoring what’s written and comments made at all sites, that they would would finally wake up the village idiot in daytona beach and they’d realize what they’re doing to the sport. i really wonder if brian france even watches a race sober, cause you know, the majority of the masses are catching up on chores, or sleep on sunday afternoons now.

will we see even more advertising banners covering empty seats at the tracks next year?

Ken Smith
06/03/2013 01:25 PM

As my DVR for some reason failed to start, I turned on the TV with 8 laps left to go. Probably saw the best part of the race!! From what I saw on TV, looked like the stands were at least half empty – or more! Will NASCRAP ever get the hint that fans are getting tired of their crappy calls? As to the Johnson black flag – I am no Johnson fan – but from reading elsewhere it sounded like it was Knaus’s call when he told Jimmy over the radio that it was OK – just keep going! The great Knaus screwed up !! (Brian apparently didn’t get the check after the early phantom caution flag!!). Also was surprised when Chris Meyers said that Newman wasn’t returning to SHR next season – first time I had heard that anywhere. Final point – thank God I won’t have to listen to Mike Joy the remainder of the season!!

06/03/2013 02:15 PM

Nascar SHOULD have people reading this feedback, but because nothing is changing makes me think they are really arrogant or don’t have a lick of business sense. Fans are fed up and things are much so, too much to list.

06/03/2013 03:11 PM

that was a race?
i thought i was watching a parade. i finally gave up on it and turned over to the indy race which i found to be a more watchable “product”

btw there will be little change as long as a certain profit margin is rolling into the france clan

06/03/2013 04:44 PM

Bill B, thanks, I appreciate the corroboration on the time, as well as the PR spin. I also agree that there was a smaller crowd by my estimate, too.

Next race, it may be smaller by two. I think we are done. Boring racing? check! How expensive is gas? How irritated was I on Sunday and still am 24 hrs later? A lot – enough to think it isn’t worth my time to keep wasting it at Dover again.

John Potts, I totally thought JPM snookered him.

06/03/2013 05:25 PM

Yup, another week of the circus they call NASCAR! Its not Jimmy who can’t see through the smoke, it’s the idiots that run NASCAR. They are the real reasons they are losing fans. I am not a Jimmy Johnson fan, but with the way NASCAR fixes races by their stupid rules, I am just about fed up with it. When the green flag is waved, its time to go. If you don’t, you either broke or were sleeping, too bad! That is racing! If the green flag is thrown when both cars are in the box area, it’s time to go. Otherwise, maybe don’t throw it until Start-finish line. Better yet, maybe they should just have leader in front with 2nd and 3rd lined up side by side behind the leader. At least that way NASCAR wouldn’t screw up the restart, YES NASCAR! Then there wouldn’t have to be a decision which lane the leader wants. We the fans want racing, not a Circus!

Bill B
06/03/2013 07:27 PM

That’s exactly what I’d like to see if we have to have double file restarts. Being the leader should mean something. If Jimmie had of just waited for JPM to start, made sure he held onto second, he’d have passed him legitimately within 5 laps. But the double file restart makes the guy in second want to steal first, the guy in second want to steal third, etc.. Don’t get me wrong, each guy should want to advance their position ASAP but they should be able to do it without stealing it on the restart.

06/04/2013 07:05 PM

I actually thought the race was fairly entertaining. Good racing back in the pack, pass for the lead in the closing laps, a little drama between drivers, and a somewhat surprise winner.


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