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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Dover Spring Race Recap

The Key MomentJimmie Johnson aced the final restart, despite a concerted charge by Kevin Harvick to his inside to win a race he dominated for much of the afternoon.

In a Nutshell – Yeah, it wasn’t classic Dover, but sometimes a driver and team hit the right setup for a particular day and they dominate. It’s been that way since stock car racing began.

Dramatic MomentJeff Gordon had what might have been the best car on the track. He stalked, ran down and passed Johnson for the lead only to have to surrender it and head to the pits to have a loose wheel tightened. Were it not for a pit road miscue, we might actually have had an exciting race.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Yep, I felt that Sunday’s race was a bit better than most this season, though the ending felt preordained by the time it occurred. That’s not because there was a big old pig pile of a wreck, but in spite of that incident.

Add Gordon to list of drivers calling into question race officials decision making in calling debris cautions despite how tactfully he stated his objection. Of course, Gordon needed the race to go green for just 10 more laps to overcome his pit road misfortune and get back in sequence with the leaders. In his post-race comments, it was clear that Gordon’s head is now in a bad place, and usually a driver with his head in a bad place doesn’t score good finishes. Ask Denny Hamlin.

After his latest media meltdown, the 2012 Kurt Busch Career Redemption Tour has been terminated. Ticketholders to the events can apply for refunds on an individual basis; hopefully, all three of those individuals get their refund. And any corporation considering sponsoring the No. 51 team? They can burn the cash in 55-gallon drums instead. Any penalties for Busch’s actions, in which he berated the Sporting News‘ Bob Pockrass after the Nationwide Series race, will likely be announced on Tuesday afternoon. (It’s interesting that there’s actually a rule in the book that prohibits any driver from “interfering with a member of the broadcast media” but I doubt that rule applies to mere scribes.) Busch should strongly consider buying a comfortable recliner so he has someplace to watch the Cup races next year.

Wow, shades of Stroker Ace in a rubber chicken costume. Yes, I know the brightly colored fright wig Johnson wore in Victory Lane was tied to a movie promotion advertised on his car, but it just wasn’t right. Let me tell you something, no matter what they paid him, Cale Yarborough wouldn’t have donned that wig.

In the aftermath of the big lap 9 wreck, I was left wondering if perhaps the two cross-track structures at Dover, one a stairway to get from the outside of the track to the infield and the other a suite, are somehow limiting drivers’ vision ahead and the ability of the spotters to try to guide their driver through chaos. I drove a Cup car in a school at Dover many years back and while the overhead suite wasn’t in place, the track crossover was and I seem to recall it blocked my vision for what could have been a vital few seconds during an actual race.

In an apparent coincidence, Busch’s girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, is now saying that a media member shoved not only her but her child to get access to Kurt. She didn’t say when, where, or who, but it appears that the battle between Busch and the media is about to become a shooting war.

With the broadcasting switch to TNT this Sunday, drivers will be issued a memo this week to remind them of the proper procedure at the start of the race. Contrary to what they’ve heard, the event actually begins when the green flag is displayed – not when Darrell Waltrip utters the most annoying catchphrase in the history of race broadcasting.

Yep, the NASCAR on FOX season has come to its welcome conclusion. Unfortunately, when FOX returns at Daytona next year Dr. Dick Berggren will no longer be part of the team. He’s retiring from race broadcasting to pursue other interests and I wish him well. Quick show of hands, how many of you wish Berggren would be back at Daytona and the Waltrip brothers wouldn’t be? Dr. Berggren recently stated that his favorite place to be is in the grandstands at a local short track, with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. How can you not like a guy like that?

Yes, Memorial Day was last weekend. But take a few moments this Wednesday, June 6th to recall the courage and sacrifice of the troops that fought on D-Day to liberate occupied continental Europe. It was the battle that turned the tide of the war and as such, still allows us to live in freedom. But freedom came at a terrible cost. On Omaha Beach alone nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers gave their lives that day.

Wednesday evening Tony Stewart’s annual charity event, The Prelude to the Dream, will run at Eldora Speedway. If you’re not able to attend in person, the race will be broadcast on pay-per-view. I’ve always felt that once summer begins and kids are out of school, NASCAR ought to run some midweek evening events to free up weekends for some summertime fun.

Any one else notice that Rick Hendrick didn’t hurry over to the No. 48 car for another side-saddle ride to Victory Lane? He’s probably still icing his nuts.

You think some of this year’s NASCAR races have been a mess? IndyCar trumped the worst of them Sunday. A week after a highly competitive and lauded Indy 500, that circuit headed off for self-inflicted disaster at the winding roads of Belle Isle in Michigan. About halfway to the scheduled distance, the track surface began falling apart to the point the debris launched James “Manica” Hinchcliffe skyward and into the tires outlining the course. The race had to be red-flagged for two hours while track repairs were made and shortly thereafter, it began raining. The race was reduced to 60 laps, but ABC had already bailed on their coverage of the event before it resumed. For anyone else without ESPNEWS, Scott Dixon won the race.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Gordon is going to have to start inventing new ways to lose races because he’s used all the conventional methods already this season. The No. 24 car was at least equal to, if not better than the No. 48 but a botched pit stop threw any chance of the win away. Then, a debris caution at the worst possible time finished him off, trapping the car in traffic and a lap down until it was far too late to make up the distance. Unfortunately, the way his luck has been running this season a resultant 13th-place finish was probably his “best case disaster scenario” this year to date.

Stewart’s weekend was probably derailed on Saturday when he qualified so poorly (29th). Since Smoke started so far back, he was running in the midst of the least common denominators on lap 9 when the big wreck took place. Landon Cassill, Stewart and Regan Smith were at the center of the melee; Smith took the blame, but Stewart deflected it and put it straight back on Cassill instead.

Juan Pablo Montoya was another driver swept up in the lap 9 wreck. The Target car looked like it had been used for “Target practice” after the incident. With all the smoke, I was actually wondering if there was a jet-dryer somehow involved in the incident as well.

Carl Edwards had a solid top-five run going much of the race only to blow a right front tire and take a hard, one-way excursion into the outside wall.

Kyle Busch had to pit a second time to have a loose wheel righted. Shortly thereafter, he blew an engine to end his agony.

Jeff Burton was enjoying a rare run inside the top 10 until his motor expired in dramatic fashion.

Kurt Busch’s car was so bad that at points, he was asking if any of his team members felt like taking over driving duties. Before anyone could volunteer he, too blew an engine.

Well, you’d think winning at Daytona would at least mean your ride for the rest of the season was secure. That’s not the case for John King, the upset winner of the Daytona Truck race. This week. it was announced Red Horse Racing was shutting down his team at least until some sponsor funding could be found. (And ironically enough, King’s former RHR teammate, Todd Bodine, won Friday night’s soggy truck race at Dover. Bodine was initially signed to a one-race sponsorship deal but it was he, not King kept at the multi-car organization.)

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Harvick missed his pit stall while trying to stop while running third, a mistake even he claimed was self-inflicted. The miscue dropped him to 18th, the tail end of the lead lap but team and driver rallied back to a second-place finish.

Johnson and Matt Kenseth had an extremely close call entering pit road late in the race, a catastrophe narrowly averted once the No. 17 car darted to the inside heading towards the first timing line. Contact, should Johnson have tried to block could have upended the results of the race.

Struggling Ryan Newman drove through Clint Bowyer’s pit, actually running into the No. 15 team’s jackman in the process. While the crewman wasn’t injured, the misstep messed up Bowyer’s day – just not to the point where he couldn’t battle back to an admirable fifth-place result.

Joey Logano’s engine mysteriously switched itself off under caution, dropping him from eighth to 15th. Ironically, he was able to rally back to finish exactly eighth.

Despite insisting he had brake issues for much of the race, Aric Almirola managed to finish sixth.

Marcos Ambrose’s car was so loose much of the race, he was exiting some corners sideways, but his team was able to put a good enough mount underneath him under the final 100 laps that Ambrose drove forward to a 10th-place finish. It was a pretty good day for Richard Petty Motorsports, who had both their cars inside the top 10 for the first time all season.

Nobody had a truck that could even keep Harvick’s in sight during the Friday night race. But ever mercurial Mother Nature splattered the area with just enough rain showers that Bodine was able to win a mechanized game of musical chairs in the pits.

Worth Noting

  • It’s now been 30 races since a Cup polesitter last actually went on to win that same race. That’s the longest stretch of futility for first-place qualifiers in NASCAR’s 64-year history.
  • Johnson’s seventh win at Dover ties him with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison as the most prolific winners at the Delaware track.
  • Johnson’s win was the third straight victory for HMS in Cup points races. He’s scored two of those wins.
  • Harvick’s second-place finish matched his best of the 2012 Cup season. He also finished second at Phoenix. It had been eight races since Harvick’s last top-five result.
  • The top-10 finishers at Dover drove four Chevys, three Fords and three Toyotas. The top finishing Dodge driver was Brad Keselowski in 12th.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to lead all drivers with 10 top-10 finishes in this year’s 13 points races. Kenseth and Greg Biffle have seven top-five finishes apiece, pacing all comers in that category. Hamlin and Johnson have six each.
  • Kenseth now has eight consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Bowyer’s fifth-place finish was his best since Bristol.
  • Almirola’s sixth-place finish was the second best of his Cup career. He finished fourth at Homestead in November 2010.
  • Logano’s eighth-place result was his best of this season. Combined with a win in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, it was a pretty fair weekend for the young man.
  • Kasey Kahne’s ninth-place drive was his seventh straight top-10 result.
  • Newman has now endured a seven-race stretch without a top-10 run.
  • Kyle Busch’s 29th-place effort was his worst since Martinsville.

What’s the Points?

Biffle remains atop the championship race, but he now only has a one-point margin on teammate Kenseth. Earnhardt moves up a spot to third in the standings, just ten points out of the lead.

Hamlin fell a spot to fourth, 12 points behind Earnhardt. Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick remain fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively.

Stewart (+1), Kyle Busch (-1) and Bowyer (+2) round out the top 10. How does a driver like Stewart finish 25th in a race, the price paid after wrecking on lap 9 and still gain a position? Simple: the drivers in front of him in the standings had even worse days.

Keselowski remains 11th in the standings but has the extra insurance policy of having won two races to make the Chase. Not so fortunate is Edwards, who is listed in 12th but has not visited Victory Lane since Las Vegas in March, 2011. If they were to start the Chase next week, he’d be displaced by 13th-place Newman, who has won a race this season. Kahne, another race winner, is listed as 14th in the standings, now just one marker behind Newman.

Further back, Gordon moved up a spot to 21st in the standings, just one point outside of the top 20. That’s important, because the “wild card” slots for the Chase will be determined by the driver with the most wins outside the top 10; but to be considered, those drivers need to be inside the top 20 in points. That’s all a moot point, though, unless these drivers can start kicking their slumps. Simply put, Gordon and Edwards need to start winning races if they’ve got any title aspirations this year.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — We’ll give this one three cans. Maybe that’s generous, but given this season to date, it was far from the runt of the litter.

Next Up – The series continues the Northern Trek with a visit to the Pocono track up the road aways from here. The triangular raceway is newly repaved and thus, scary fast; drivers were running wide open through the once-feared Tunnel Turn in testing. Additionally, next weekend’s race is only 400 miles in length, shortened by 40 laps over 2011 so expect the unexpected.

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