Key Moment – With 29 laps to go, and at least a handful of drivers looking at trying to stretch their fuel to the finish, NASCAR spotted a spring rubber 20 feet from the racing surface, on the apron in Turn 3 and threw the caution flag. As a result, any chance of the most dominant car on the day losing the race went out the window.
In a Nutshell – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had one of his best chances to win, outside of Michigan since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. But everyone in Junior Nation, hoping NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver was going to turn his pole position into a win simply sighed once Jimmie Johnson drove to the front and took the lead on lap 120. Earnhardt wound up second, done in by trouble getting on and off pit road as for the eighth time in his career, Johnson went to Victory Lane at Dover, setting the all-time win mark for the series at the tricky, one-mile concrete oval.
Dramatic Moment – After the caution period for the dangerous spring rubber in Turn 3, Johnson started on the outside with two fresh right-side tires while Earnhardt was on his back bumper with four fresh bolognas. Earnhardt cleared Jeff Gordon on the inside, slotting in behind the No. 48 car with 26 laps to go and looked primed to pull off the win. But while Earnhardt got to almost the back bumper of Johnson about five laps into the run, it was the most drama that could be squeezed out of the event. Johnson pulled away and strolled to the victory.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
I’m hearing that there is going to be a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway after the race, in two weeks to try out a new configuration for the Gen-6 car that will eliminate aero push when a car is behind another car. The technology was supposedly introduced by Toyota for the original Gen-6, but NASCAR didn’t have time to test it thoroughly before the 2013 season. If the aero push can be eliminated, the complaint from fans about no passing for the lead on the track may finally be heard and fixed. The rumor is that teams have stocked up on steel and are building some cars to run at the test. We’ll have to wait and see if it really happens and how successful these changes could be.
Martin Truex, Jr. has not announced his plans for next year. Word is that NAPA is going to go with him, wherever he goes, but it won’t be to Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs feels that he’d be undermining a fellow Toyota team if he signed Truex away from Waltrip, even though MWR has stated he’s free to look for another ride. Possible destinations for Truex, should he choose to leave include Richard Childress Racing and manning a potential expansion car at Furniture Row.
The folks at Penske Racing are starting to get a reputation… and it is not a good one. After the Nationwide race on Saturday, Logano was celebrating his fourth straight win at Dover in the series while his crew was trying to make the No. 22 car pass post-race inspection. Try as they might, the nose was found to be too low and Logano was considered illegal. While NASCAR won’t take the win away, they’ll be sure and knock six points out of the owner’s total while probably hitting them with another fine. After the Richmond rumors and the Texas failure earlier this year, the folks at Penske better start double checking their figures before they put the cars back on the racetrack.
This coming week will be the second display of the multi-zone tread race tire from Goodyear. They tried it out at Atlanta and the tire did not have any failures due to the new, multi-tread feature. Kansas is a recent repave that has, fortunately already lost a little grip. Let’s hope that this tire will give up as well, actually creating a race with the Gen-6 car where new tires make a difference.
As the landscape of next season continues to take shape, Quicken Loans announced they are going to go to RCR with Ryan Newman while Jimmy John’s is going to head to SHR with Kevin Harvick. Word has also come down that Kurt Busch will be driving the No. 41 in 2014. Now, if we can just get the paint scheme to be a mirror image of the boss’s ride…
Denny Hamlin is trying some alternative treatment to avoid offseason back surgery. While he has tried to make it sound like he’s doing OK, it’s clear the injury is bothering him. Admitting he’s trying other treatments, while stating he had to get out of the car at Richmond during practice because of the pain is all you need to know on that one. The problem is going to be, if Hamlin tries this alternative method and it doesn’t work, he’s going to be going under the knife early in 2014 and will most likely not be right for the upcoming season either. It is still looking like the veteran should have gone ahead and had the surgery this summer when he realized he wasn’t going to make the Chase.
While NAPA is leaving MWR next season, 5-Hour Energy announced that they will be back to sponsor Clint Bowyer in 2014. The company was planning on waiting until later in the year to make the announcement but, with the uncertainty around the team with NAPA pulling out they felt it was best to do it now. MWR financier Rob Kauffman still insists the team will run three cars, full-time next season.
It was announced this week that Valvoline is returning to Hendrick Motorsports in 2014. Valvoline, in NASCAR for decades was with the organization when Jeff Gordon won his first title for Hendrick in 1995. The move means that Quaker State is out of the mix at HMS until at least 2017, when this agreement with Valvoline runs out. It would seem that a team looking for a sponsor might want to be on the horn to the folks at Quaker State before they are snatched up by a bigger organization. That big team could be Roush Fenway, who has had Valvoline ties for years but may finally be losing out completely to Hendrick on that one.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Brad Keselowski has had a less than desirable year as the defending champion of the Cup Series. Sunday’s race was the one-year anniversary of his last win in this division – and a microcosm of how the year has gone. Starting sixth, he ran around in the top 10 for most of the first half of the race but on lap 228, he pulled into the garage with a failing rear end on his car. While Keselowski did get back on track, by the end of the event he finished 45 laps down in 37th place.
Carl Edwards was the sexy pick for a lot of the pundits who didn’t want to jump on the obvious Johnson or Matt Kenseth picks at the start of the Chase. Coming into the race at Dover Sunday, he was fourth in the standings and people still thought he had a chance at the title even though he was 36 points behind. Unfortunately for the fans of Cousin Carl, a faulty hub sent him to the garage late in the event and he ended up finishing 35th, 15 laps down to the leader. Edwards is now 11th in points, 65 behind Kenseth and done for another year.
Kasey Kahne’s Chase is the nightmare that just won’t end. At the end of Sunday’s event, he dropped a cylinder and limped home one lap down. He took a wave around on the last caution to be on the lead lap, but couldn’t stay there due to the sick powerplant and wound up a lap back in 13th. Kahne made it into the Chase as a “wild card,” by virtue of two wins but it looks like he’s light years away from contending for a third – or the Cup Series title.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tried his best to screw up his weekend by missing pit lane on one pit stop and coming in uber slow on another. Fortunately, his car was fast enough that he was able to come out of the pits on the lead lap after both miscues and ended up crossing the finish line in second place.
Jeff Burton managed to score the Lucky Dog twice during Sunday’s race. While he did end up a lap down, only 12 cars were on the lead lap at the end of the race. Burton parlayed his fortunate hound results into a 14th-place finish.
Jamie McMurray started the race in the seventh position, only to slide backwards through the latter part of the race’s first half. Fortunately, his team kept him on the lead lap, making adjustments and eventually landed McMurray the highest-finishing position of any non-Chase driver (11th).
- Since the Chase started in 2004, Jimmie Johnson has won 23 of the 93 races contended during the final 10-race segment of the schedule. That equates to a 24.7% winning percentage when the chips are down. It is a decent bet that Johnson will win two more races before the season ends, putting him at exactly 25% when the checkered flag flies in Homestead.
- For the first time in the history of the Chase, the top-10 finishers in the race were Chase drivers. While the majority of the top 10 is usually Chasers, since 2004, it’s never been entirely filled with those contenders. You can probably win some money in a bar with that one.
- Jimmie Johnson has 65 Cup Series wins to his name. He’s now 12 wins away from supplanting Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time list and 23 wins away from climbing all the way to third. It will take him 41 to overtake David Pearson for second.
- Johnson now has five victories in 2013. It’s the eighth time in 10 years that Johnson has scored at least five wins in a season.
- Johnson has 12 top-5 finishes in 29 races this year. Sunday also marked Johnson’s 12th top-5 finish in 24 career races at Dover.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s runner-up finish was his second top-2 result at Dover in 28 career starts. This is Earnhardt’s third top-2 result of the 2013 season.
- Earnhardt’s pole position marked the first time since 2002 that he’s won more than one pole in a season.
- Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his second career podium at Dover in 10 career starts. This was Logano’s fifth top-3 finish of the season.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (17th) was the highest finishing rookie again at Dover.
- Top 10 finishers by manufacturer:
Chevrolet – 5
Ford – 2
Toyota – 3
What’s the Points?
Here’s a display of just how hard it is to make up points, along with a greater example of why anyone beyond third place is out of the running already in the title Chase. Jimmie Johnson led the most laps, won the race, and finished six places ahead of Matt Kenseth on Sunday. For all those efforts, Johnson gained just 10 points on Kenseth. He is still eight points behind with seven races to go on the year. To recap: the points leader had an off day, Johnson was flawless and he only picked up 10 points. That example shows how nobody that is 39 or more points back right now has a shot at this title, narrowing the field into a three-horse race. Kyle Busch finished fifth on Sunday and is now 12 points behind Kenseth, the final driver in the trio battling for the top spot. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are tied for fourth, 39 points out and leading the “best of the rest” at this point in time.
Greg Biffle came home ninth on Sunday and that puts him 41 points behind the leader. He’s hoping to jump over Harvick and Gordon to claim the “best of the rest” title. Ryan Newman is now officially one race out of the lead, after his eighth-place finish leaves him 48 points off the top spot. Clint Bowyer is eighth in points, some 51 behind the lead while Kurt Busch had a loose wheel during the race on Sunday that resulted in him coming home 21st. He is 55 points behind in the Chase.
Further back, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s second place finish vaulted him to 10th in the standings. A few more runs like this one and Earnhardt will be sure to have a table in Vegas. Rounding out the Chasers are Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, who are already making plans for how they’ll answer the questions during next year’s Media Tour about how good 2014 is going to be.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – After a complete snoozefest on Saturday during the Nationwide race, Sunday’s parade was very close to being salvaged by a myriad of cars running short on fuel at the end of the event. Unfortunately, the ridiculous caution for the off-track spring rubber eliminated that possibility, so we were left with a ceremonial drive to the checkers by Johnson. We’ll give this one two cold Schlitz just because Jimmie Johnson was able to break a record he held with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Let’s see next if he can double his win total at Martinsville to break a record that is also held by Petty.
Next Up – For the second time this season, we’ll be subjected to a race in front of the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway. Coverage begins at 1:00 PM on ESPN and MRN.
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