Sunday proved two things about the No. 48 team. First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the four-time defending champions. The pit crew was flawless. Their car was on a rail. And Jimmie Johnson led the most laps at Dover for the third consecutive Cup race.
Second, the No. 48 team, even at their best, is mortal. Despite having the dominant car and making every call correctly, Kyle Busch was able to keep up with Johnson. And when Busch got ahead of Johnson by a nose following an exchange of green-flag pit stops on lap 362, it was enough to get Johnson to speed in the pits trying to keep up. That speeding penalty relegated Johnson and his class of the field car to a 16th-place finish, and left Busch to score a victory that saw him largely uncontested over the final 38 laps.
“We had things fall our way today,” said Busch of the win, his second of 2010 and second of his career at Dover.
“Unfortunately for those guys, they (the No. 48 team) got busted for speeding and we weren’t able to beat them outright and race them around to the end of the race the last 30 laps,” Busch continued. “But I feel like our car was at least good enough where we could challenge them for it, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we could have beaten him today, with or without the penalty.”
Busch’s confident assertion is not without merit; the No. 18 Toyota was the fastest car on the short run for the length of Sunday’s 400-miler. Busch’s team also proved able to improve their machine over the race, as Busch proved able to contest Johnson over the long run as well, leading 61 laps after a lap 292 restart before Johnson finally retook the lead.
While Busch’s victory was the story of the day, fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin also had a notable performance at Dover, shaking off a disastrous run in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday to score his first top-10 finish at Dover since 2007, carrying over the momentum of an emotional Southern 500 triumph one week ago. Said Joe Gibbs of Hamlin’s weekend during post-race remarks, “[coming into this year] I think we all said he’s a threat at certain tracks. I think what he’s showing us now [is] he can win anyplace.”
Busch and Johnson were the class of the field on Sunday, but two other early contenders came from an unlikely source… Richard Petty Motorsports. Kasey Kahne surged from his second place starting position to lead the first 24 laps and looked to be a top-five car until he broke the shifter rod in his cockpit. Struggling with gear issues for much of the afternoon, Kahne limped to a 20th-place result. AJ Allmendinger also proved to be a contender, closing to within a few car lengths of Johnson challenging for the lead on lap 103 before pit-road troubles knocked the No. 43 team from the lead pack; Allmendinger still rebounded to finish 14th.
Sunday’s race proved to be a fast and challenging affair for the Sprint Cup field, with only five cautions flying over the duration of the 400 laps run (the race ended on a 108-lap green flag run). Busch and a number of other drivers noted that the tires this weekend put down far more rubber than is typically seen at Dover, a development that left much of the field struggling to find a handle. Said runner-up finisher Jeff Burton, “there was a tremendous amount of rubber built up on the track, and when you run through that stuff, it would really upset the car.”
“It [was] hard to pass the way that rubber is, it kind of makes the track a bit of a single-lane racetrack off the corner,” added Burton. “I don’t remember rubber building up quite this much here before, and I thought that had a pretty big impact on the race.”
After Busch and Burton, Matt Kenseth, Hamlin and David Reutimann rounded out the top five. The only change in the top 12 in the standings was Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s tumble from 12th to 16th after finishing 10 laps down in 30th; grabbing the 12th-place position in points was polesitter Martin Truex Jr., who finished of all places 12th in the final running order. Johnson’s late race mistake dropped the No. 48 team to fourth in the standings, 131 markers behind leader Kevin Harvick.
All cars cleared post-race inspection.