Thomas Bowles · Sunday June 4, 2006
To the Point: Kenseth passed his Roush Racing teammate Jamie McMurray with four laps to go to take the checkered flag at Dover. McMurray found his way to the front through pit strategy and appeared poised for an upset win, leading 95 of the final 99 laps, but Kenseth caught up just in the nick of time. In a thrilling finish, Kenseth passed both Kevin Harvick and McMurray in the final 10 laps to take the win; McMurray held on for second, followed by Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Kyle Busch.
Who Should Have Won: Kenseth. On long runs, the 17 car appeared to be the class of the field, but got shuffled back in the pack somewhat due to several cars that chose to stay out on older tires. With the final 50 laps run under the green flag, though, Kenseth got that long run he needed to get back up front.
Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1)Why was the Monster Mile, well…tame this time around?
A track known for eating up race cars and spitting them out, Sunday’s race at Dover featured nine cautions, but most were for isolated one car incidents, and just four cars retired from the race due to crash damage. At one point, there was over a 140-lap period of green flag racing, almost unheard of nowadays. It seems the strong tire Goodyear brought to the race track combined with drivers keeping their cool led to the Monster taking a break. Even better, the big wrecks were substituted for one of the most exciting Dover finishes in recent years, along with side-by-side racing throughout.
2) Why would a NASCAR Cup track have less than 43 pit stalls?
With the current 43-car qualifying grid in place since 1997, it’s inexcusable for a race track hosting the Busch and Nextel Cup series twice each year to have less than 43 pit stalls. If Dover can afford to have a five year capital improvement project for its race track, it can afford to add an extra pit stall so teams like Jimmie Johnson’s and Scott Wimmer’s don’t have to deal with the debacle of sharing one. As much as I’d like a bigger media center"¦that’s more important.
3) How long will Tony Stewart really be out of commission?
A little longer than we’re being led to believe. Diagnosed with a fractured right shoulder, Stewart gave way to substitute driver Ricky Rudd after the first caution on lap 39 and seemed to be in noticeable pain. If Stewart is having trouble now going 40 laps in a 400-mile race, it’s hard to believe he can go 500 miles next week at Pocono when he’ll have to shift each lap using his right hand. With the road course at Infineon also on the schedule this month, you’ve got to believe Rudd will be retained by Gibbs for all of June (for more on Rudd’s run, check out the Tough Days section below).
4) What was the mysterious piece of debris that ended a 140-lap green flag run?
The third caution on Sunday came after one of the longest runs of green flag racing this season; the only thing was, the TV cameras caught a truck looking for debris in turn 2 it never seemed to find. If the caution didn’t come out for "debris" at that point, lap 264, who knows if it would have come out again the rest of the race? Things were going that cleanly on the race track. Of course, cautions breed cautions, and bunching up the field at that point in the event caused six more in the next 80 laps.
5) How hard is it going to be to knock one of the current Top 10 drivers out of the Chase?
Very, very difficult. 2006 preseason title favorites and 2005 Chase participants Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have been on a tear, finishing 8th and 15th respectively on Sunday to continue their bounce back from poor starts (the drivers are 12th and 14th in points). Their problem? Nine of the Top 10 drivers in the current point standings finished 12th or better Sunday (Stewart being the lone exception), and no team in the Top 10 shows excessive signs of weakness. For Biffle, Edwards, and anyone else within striking distance, it’s clearly not going to be an easy task to knock anyone out.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray didn’t even spend a lap running in the Top 10 until choosing to stay out on old tires during a caution with 100 to go, giving the 26 car the lead after getting the Lucky Dog just a handful of laps earlier. Still, it doesn’t matter how you get up front if you can stay up front, and McMurray accomplished that with ease. Second place isn’t a win, but for this bunch, it’s a big boost after a year of struggles.
Jeff Burton: With five Top 10 finishes in the last six races, Burton was already on fire, but Sunday provided his strongest run to date. Leading a season high 48 laps, Burton was a factor for the win all day and came home 4th, tying his best finish of the year. Add that finish to a Busch win on Saturday, and it’s arguably the best race weekend the 38-year-old has had since moving to RCR in 2004.
Jimmie Johnson: Some cats have 9 lives, but I’m not sure that would have even been enough to cover Johnson this weekend. Let’s list all the adversity this team was faced with from Friday to Sunday: spinning in qualifying, starting from the rear (42nd), sharing a pit stall with another team for the first 140 laps, getting lapped early, and getting bumped and spun from behind while 1 lap down. Despite all that, even after the spin and the damage Johnson was able to put himself in position to pass the leader and get back on the lead lap the hard way, AND pass over a dozen lead lap cars in the last quarter of the race to take the checkered in 6th place. Wow. What more can you write?
Bobby Labonte: While 13th place isn’t necessarily something to write home about, Labonte’s run at Dover was his best since Phoenix back in April. Fighting hard in and around the Top 10 all day, Labonte is serving notice Petty Enterprises is on the upswing.
Mark Martin: For most, 9th would be a finish to be proud of, but Martin and his team could only hang their heads on this day. In what seems to be a recurring theme this season, Martin’s pit crew made a critical mistake when their driver was in position to win the race. Leading when a debris caution came out on lap 264, Martin’s front tire changer didn’t put all the lugnuts on the left front tire, requiring an extra pit stop that sent the 6 car to the back of the lead lap. Martin made a great comeback after that, but could only work his way up to 9th with possibly the only car capable of challenging Kenseth.
Ricky Rudd: Tony Stewart’s "Super Sub" was hoping for a super finish in his first race of 2006, but experienced nothing but disappointment. Taking over the 20 car after the first caution, the crew kept the car on the lead lap after the driver change and Rudd slowly worked his way up from 38th"¦but his progress stalled around 20th place. To make matters worse, Rudd was caught speeding exiting pit road during a green flag stop, a mistake that put him 2 laps behind, laps he would never recover. Rudd finished 25th.
Elliott Sadler: The saga that is Robert Yates Racing continued Sunday. While teammate Dale Jarrett struggled with an ill-handling Ford, Sadler had a car capable of finishing in the Top 10, only to have a loose wheel that required an unscheduled green flag pit stop to fix. Then, already laps behind the leaders, Sadler slipped in oil from Kevin LePage’s blown engine and crashed into the Turn 3 wall, sending him to the garage early with a 40th place finish and a torn up race car.
J.J. Yeley: The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie was having his best run since California in February, climbing quickly through the Top 10 before having a flat tire under the green flag. Trapped two laps down from that point on, Yeley simply tried to soldier on to a good finish before losing the battle to the Monster Mile not once, but twice, in separate one-car incidents with the Turn 1 wall. Yeley finished 42nd.
With almost everyone in the Top 10 finishing up front, the points remained largely unchanged. Johnson remains atop the standings, although his lead was cut to 74 by second place Matt Kenseth. Mark Martin remains third, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passing the wounded Tony Stewart for fourth place.
Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch round out the Top 10, the only drivers currently eligible for the Chase for the second straight week.
"It was the kind of race that you dream about to the finish. Any time you can win at this level it’s a great feeling, but when there’s two or three to go when I finally got the lead, everything just kind of went right for us. Even when it went wrong, it ended up going right. It felt good to get that win." Matt Kenseth
"(I’m) very disappointed"¦especially to come that close. When Matt passed me I lost all my momentum. Once he got in front of me I thought, "˜I have no chance (to win) unless something happens to his car.’" Jamie McMurray
"It was a great fight. Lot of hard work today, bottom line." Jimmie Johnson on recovery to a 6th place finish
"We had a winning race car and had a bad day with it. Ran ninth." Mark Martin
"I knew there was a reason I quit this sport. I wasn’t speeding. Somebody up there’s got something against me." Ricky Rudd
Nextel Cup’s six week East Coast swing reaches its final destination next week, as the 2.5 mile Pocono Raceway will play host to the Pocono 500. The action starts at 12:30 PM ET on Sunday with the prerace show LIVE on Fox.
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