The Frontstretch: The Monster Mile? More Like Monster Mild by Thomas Bowles -- Monday September 30, 2013

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The Monster Mile? More Like Monster Mild

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday September 30, 2013

 

Dover’s Monster Mile? More like Monster Mild. Sunday, a one-mile oval once known for chewing up Sprint Cup cars and spitting them out produced a conspicuously different type of competition. Used to a track that creates garbage, officials there spent the day collecting it as each of four yellow flags thrown were for “debris,” in the form of spring rubbers or metal caught inside the racing groove. At one point, the race ran 158 laps – almost half its 400-lap distance – without a caution, spreading out the field and leaving ill-handling entrants unable to make up lost ground. By the checkered flag, just 12 cars were left on the lead lap, the fewest of the season while only four drivers combined to lead 389 of the race’s 400 miles.

Even up front, where a late battle between Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. flared up Dover’s Fall Cup race was marked by stay-in-place, single-file competition.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Monster Mile has been a misnomer for this former concrete shrine, struggling for side-by-side action in recent years while its Fall race has turned remarkably clean. The last two years, there’s been just one on-track accident while eight of the nine caution flags have been for “debris.” Fuel mileage even reared its ugly head, Brad Keselowski winning this race last Fall on gas while Clint Bowyer was prepped to perhaps do the same before that gosh darn piece of metal caused a panic upstairs.

The end result, what we’ve seen all too often these days has been predictably distressing. Attendance is declining slowly but steadily, leading to rumors of a scheduling change or even a shutdown as the fan base grows tired of the on-track product. Independent ownership, without the multi-billion dollar revenue stream of an International Speedway Corporation could be defunct without the profits of neighbor Dover Downs Casino. It’s a shocking 180, as the facility really is one of the nation’s best run (with a bizarre, search your bag for an hour incident this Spring set aside). Unfortunately, a place can only live so long on its old reputation before the present reality sends people running for the exits.

So can the Monster Mile be fixed? The problems, like at several places these days have deep roots. First and foremost is NASCAR’s Gen-6, which – while taking to the track better than the Car of Tomorrow – hasn’t increased the intensity of the racing. Lead changes have gone up, from 28 to 40 for Dover’s two events year-to-year but that statistic is somewhat misleading. After all, with green-flag stops it’s natural for the top spot to switch, like a hot potato until everyone hits pit road. A more telling sign would be looking at the cars themselves, parked pristinely inside the garage after this race. They could just as easily have been taken from the showroom instead of being put through three-plus hours of 160 MPH hell.

That leads to a point about the drivers themselves, plus their crew strategies especially during the Fall Chase event. With so much to lose, for either teammates or playoff participants drivers subconsciously tend to tone down their aggression. It’s still only the third race of ten; common sense may say otherwise, but all 13 Chasers are mathematically alive to finish first. That means at an on-the-edge, Darlington-type facility such as this one everyone’s likely to risk less in order to finish. As we saw with Carl Edwards this Sunday, whose part failure cost him 20-30 points a few laps spent in the garage can kill your chances. The Chase is so competitive, so ripe with parity these days you don’t get a mulligan anymore.

Certainly not this year, either with the trio of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Jimmie Johnson pulling away from the field. Speaking of… it also doesn’t help how one driver has simply dominated the proceedings here in recent years. Jimmie Johnson, in setting a record for all-time Dover victories Sunday has now won five of the last ten “Monster” races, most of them in dominating fashion. And the five he lost? Almost all were due to circumstances beyond his control. This Spring, a controversial restart call was the culprit; last Fall, it was the gas tank that gave rival Keselowski an upset. The No. 48 team has laid the field to waste so much, so often it’s turned fans off to believing anyone else will ever contend. And the way he’s done it? Well, it’s been well documented Johnson isn’t the type to ruffle feathers. It’s a formulaic shellacking up front, disposing of his rivals with all the excitement of searching the Dewey Decimal System at your local library.

It didn’t used to be this way here. Dover was a crucial Fall turning point, a test of man and machine where its 500 milers reduced drivers to one simple thought process: survive. It was here where Alan Kulwicki’s title dream almost died, losing multiple cars over the course of a 1992 weekend that took his championship deficit to nearly insurmountable levels. Races here, through the ‘90s and early 2000s were half demolition derby, half endurance special as you never knew who or what would break next. As recently as 2008, when a three-way Roush Fenway battle tilted towards Greg Biffle the track was still putting together fantastic finishes.

Ever since, Dover’s been lost at sea; so somewhere, somehow they need to rekindle that magic. It’s a unique track, in a sea of cookie-cutter ovals that, when done right is exactly what NASCAR needs. But with schedule changes looming, along with its independent ownership status it’s no secret a race date could be dispensable. So whether it’s Goodyear, a new race distance, or an offseason project to widen the groove a bit Dover needs to stand up and protect itself before it’s a victim.

If nothing else, Sunday’s race showed us that. How can Mr. Miles be much of a Monster, you see when he doesn’t do much of anything at all?

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jerseygirl
09/30/2013 09:44 AM
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Completely agree with you, Tom. This track has produced a snoozefest of races & finishes for the past several years.

Personally I would prefer to just skip this race but I have family (who are Johnson fans) who love going. The debacle at security in the spring almost got me my wish. We were annoyed at the fact that LACK of STAFF at the gates caused that backup to get into the track, but here we were again yesterday.

Ho hum, a waste of an entire day. Other than the fact that Junior & Gordon were having decent runs, it was the same old thing, the 48 up front. Boring for me, since I’m not one of his fans.

I agree, too, about the whole game NASCAR plays with their statistics on lead changes. Yeah, you can technically count the ones that occur during green flag stops, but that’s not the same as PASSES for the lead. It had its moments but IMO not enough for me to waste 2 days at this track. We’ll be skipping the spring race next year, I’ve got the family’s agreement on that. I’ll do one boring race a year at this track, but I’m done with sitting through 2 of them.

midasmicah
09/30/2013 09:57 AM
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And to think that I used to love watching races at Dover. Well, I watched very little of this one. Just a complete snooze fest. Regarding nas$car these days. The more I watch, the less I like.

Steve
09/30/2013 01:31 PM
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I dare anyone to come up with an oval track that actually produces exciting racing without the need for debris cautions or restrictor plates? Martinsville is probably the only one. Its not the tracks. Its the product being put out there and the stupid Chase. Nobody wants to race anymore and just want a good points day.

Its not a sport anymore. Its racing entertainment. If Nascar continues to keep it that way, I will continue to not spend money on it nor my Sundays viewing habits on it other than to see who wins.

Duane
09/30/2013 02:10 PM
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I say that they need to increase the size of the fuel cell. Put it back at 22 gals. Let the drivers learn what tire management really means. Racing gets better when tires start wearing out.

NASCAR succeeded in doing the opposite with me when they introduced the Chase. So far this Chase season I have watched about 20 laps of live racing. I switch over to check out the race when a NFL game goes to commercial.

WaltB
09/30/2013 03:25 PM
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I usually hate debris aka” Competition” cautions but as I sat in the stands in the blazing sun each debris caution was like reprieve. I have never nodded off in the stands at a race before. That is after attending over 100 races!There was not even a tire mark on the side of a car let alone any bent sheet metal. I do not go to see wrecks but a lot wrecks are caused by the drivers pushing the envelope. I do not think that it is the tracks it is the cars and the drivers and the point system.

jerseygirl
09/30/2013 03:41 PM
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Good point, Duane. that and fix the damn aero push so the leader doesn’t get out to a stupid lead & no one can pass him.

RobH
09/30/2013 04:50 PM
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It’s the teams.

Until NASCAR breaks up the big teams the “product” will not improve. What would have happened it Jr. pushed it and wrecked JJ?

another Andy D
09/30/2013 05:58 PM
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Every time they change cars, the racing gets boring at Dover.
Give it some time and there will be some good races again.
No crashes? Not that I really want to see them, but at Dover, it’s just weird.
That last caution was an attempt to let Jr have a shot at the win despite his screw ups.

Bill B
09/30/2013 09:02 PM
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Go to Dover every spring. It’s hit or miss. Sometimes it’s great sometimes it sucks. Last few years it’s kind of sucked.

One thing I know, if Dover wants to keep two races they better get lights. That might get them a reprieve.

So, Jerseygirl…
Was it better getting into the track this time or not? W they still using metal detectors? I couldn’t tell from your post.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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