NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2014 AAA 400 at Dover

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Beth Lunkenheimer has you covered with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

To say the 2014 season has been a struggle for Martin Truex Jr. is an understatement at best. Having gotten the raw end of team orders last season, Truex lost both his sponsor and his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing. Landing in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, vacated by Kurt Busch when he signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, Truex wanted nothing more than to move on to this year and forget the drama that unfolded right after Richmond in 2013.

But his year has been anything but successful. After dropping out of the Daytona 500 just 30 laps in, when his engine expired, Truex came into Dover with just three top-10 finishes. After starting 26th on Sunday afternoon, it appeared to be another ho-hum day for the driver of the No. 78. However, he managed to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble for a solid seventh-place finish. Though he’s not in the Chase, it’s a run that gives Truex momentum heading to Kansas Speedway next weekend.

What… does the championship picture look like with seven races to go?

And then there were 12. The AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway marked the third and final race in the Contender Round for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coming into the race, Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were locked in for the Challenger Round with nothing to lose. As far as actual points go, Keselowski leads his teammate by four markers right before the reset in preparation for round two of the Chase. Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger, Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola missed making the cut and have been eliminated from the championship battle. When the Sprint Cup Series heads off to Kansas Speedway next weekend, the top 12 will all be tied at 3,000 points to begin the next round.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Polesitter Kevin Harvick wasted little time rocketing his way out front and expanding his lead on Keselowski in the opening laps, despite complaining he was “too tight everywhere.” He led the first 147 laps when the left front of the No. 4 Chevrolet started hitting the track. Despite the troubles, Harvick dominated, leading 223 of the first 248 laps before a flat left-front tire caused by a broken inner valve stem damaged the splitter and ended his hopes of heading to Victory Lane. The No. 4 crew worked hard to keep Harvick on the lead lap while repairing the damage, but he was unable to make up a whole lot of ground and ended up finishing 13th.

Jimmie Johnson won this race last season, along with the spring race at the Monster Mile. He started eighth on Sunday afternoon and worked his way inside the top five during the more than 60-lap green-flag run to open the race. However a slow stop cost Johnson six positions on the first stop under caution, leaving him with ground to make up. But as the No. 48 team often does, Johnson handily remained inside the top 10 all day long, eventually finishing a solid third, albeit a bit disappointing for the driver who has nine wins at Dover.

When… did it all go sideways?

Harvick started on the pole for the seventh time this season and looked like he was well on his way to a dominant victory, but just shy of the halfway point, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet radioed to his team that something was wrong with the right front. Brad Keselowski easily took the lead from Harvick, who assumed that he lost a shock on that part of the car. But despite those struggles, his pit crew got him out in front of Keselowski on the next round of pit stops, and he led the following 76 laps before giving up the top spot for a round of green-flag stops.

When the round cycled through, Harvick was about to return to the lead once again, but a flat left-front tire saw the strongest car in the field slowing on the track. He managed to hang on long enough for the caution to fly before taking the No. 4 Chevrolet down pit road for service and repairs to the splitter that had dragged on the track for a couple laps. Though the announcers originally speculated the flat tire was caused by the left front problems Harvick had reported earlier, it turned out that the inner valve stem was knocked off by a stray lugnut. The polesitter managed to stay on the lead lap despite multiple stops to repaid the damage, and he was only able to move up to 13th by the time the checkered flag flew.

Why… did Jeff Gordon win the race?

Harvick clearly had the car to beat, leading a race-high 223 laps before a flat left-front tire gave Keselowski the lead. But it was four-time champion Gordon who ran the driver of the No. 2 Ford down with the help of lapped traffic before pulling away from Keselowski. Though there was another round of green-flag pit stops to cycle through, the No. 24 crew was flawless, allowing Gordon breathing room to run the final laps and head to Victory Lane for his fourth win of the year.

How… did the little guys do?

JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Hungry Jack/ACME Chevy): Allmendinger struggled early on, complaining on the radio that he was “too tight, too tight” and went a lap down to the leader. He received the free pass under the second caution but couldn’t maintain, saying his car was “the worst thing I’ve ever drove in my life” on the radio. Allmendinger finished 23rd, two laps down and was eliminated from the Chase.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevy): Like much of the competition on Sunday, Allgaier complained of a tight truck and went a lap down early on, something that continued throughout the day. Though the team attempted to use the wave-around to get a lap back, Allgaier just couldn’t move forward; he finished 29th, five laps off the pace.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears started 30th and made little ground through much of the race. Though he received the free pass early, he finished 27th, three laps down.

Circle Sport; David Stremme & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supplies Chevy): Cassill started 36th and remained in that area of the running order for much of the race before settling in for a 35th-place finish. Meanwhile, teammate Stremme started 38th and improved one position to bring home his No. 33 in 37th.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Plimpton & Hills Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Both Front Row drivers struggled with tight race cars, going a lap down early. Though the pair took the wave-around shortly after the lap 100 mark, Ragan suffered a flat and was forced to pit before the green flag flew, garnering a one-lap penalty for “disobeying a NASCAR request.” Ragan and Gilliland both finished multiple laps behind the leader in 31st and 33rd, respectively.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Travis Kvapil (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Uponor Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): All three BK Racing drivers struggled on Sunday, and once again, rookie Whitt was the strongest of the bunch. He started 29th and finished 30th. Meanwhile, Bowman and Kvapil finished 34th and 28th, respectively.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson & Mike Bliss (No. 7 Cypress HQ Chevy & No. 36 American Muscle Driving Experience Chevy & No. 37 Accell Construction, Inc. Chevy): Sorenson was the strongest of the TBR bunch on Sunday afternoon, and that’s not saying much since he never cracked the top 30. He started 33rd and dropped back as far as 35th before moving into his finishing spot of 32nd. Meanwhile, Annett finished 41st after starting 35th, and Bliss started 40th and improved to a 36th-place finish.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Chevy): Wise dropped off the lead lap early and tried using the wave-around to gain some spots. But suspension problems plagued the No. 98 team, and the decision was made to pack it in, rather than taking the time to repair the car. Wise was credited with a 42nd-place finish after completing just 197 laps.

Jay Robinson Racing; Mike Wallace (No. 66 Toyota): Wallace qualified 41st and cracked the top 40 briefly before dropping back once again. In the end, he moved forward to a 40th-place finish, improvement over where he started, albeit not that much.

GoFAS Racing; JJ Yeley (No. 32 CorvetteParts.net Ford): Yeley started 39th and never worked his way any higher in the running order, even falling back as far as 42nd. He finished the day in the same spot he started in 39th, 13 laps off the pace.

Xxxtreme Motorsports; Timmy Hill (No. 44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevy): Hill started and ended his day in the same positions, 43rd, after completing just 11 laps before retiring with a vibration.

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JohnQ

NASCAR is intent on trying to force Chase excitement where it does not exist. I wonder what would happen if someone like Truex put it all together and dominated one of the remaining races. Would the TV broadcast focus on two drivers on the Chase bubble fighting for 36th. Would the booth even mention the non Chase leader. Kyle Larson is definitely one of the NASCAR chosen and despite a stellar run Sunday was hardly mentioned. Pssst, the Chase is a disaster pass it on.

GinaV24

JohnQ, TV would totally ignore anyone not in the chase. Brian’s bad idea plus the poor execution by tv covering the actual races, along with “parity’, kit cars and hard tires has resulted in it.

Funny thing is that many fans agree that the chase is a disaster and some of the media are coming around (obviously not ESPN or NASCAR.com writers) but Brainless will keep on insisting we all love it and that is a great idea and if we enjoy watching racing, we’re stuck with it.

rg72

You mean you weren’t on the edge of your seat waiting to see if Kasey Kahne was going to pass Greg Biffle for 23rd place or 25th place or whatever place it was?

kazwit

I don’t think the chase is the problem with NASCAR. They can tweak, tweak and tweak the chase some more…but the problem is that NASCAR is the sum of its brands and loyalty is to teams, not the sanctioning body. We saw the rise of NASCAR because rabid fans latched on to drivers, teams and companies that remained consistent for many years. Dale Sr did a good job of transitioning his fans to his DEI teams. Dale Jarrett, Rusty and Mark Martin were around for years and they built loyalty to their teams. Tony Stewart was on his way with the 20 car and Home Depot…he was building a loyal fan base. When everything started getting reshuffled, fans realized that they would have to go peel the sticker off the back of the pickup and they never ended up replacing it. The only way this will change is if NASCAR stops hoarding sponsor money (no more official snack food of nascar) and if they start getting more hands on with teams to make sure long term brands are established, maintained and transitioned. Drivers need to have personalities and stop sounding like PR robots. They also need to stop making the tracks easier to get around. People tune in to see good drivers beat tough tracks. I don’t want multiple grooves at Bristol and Richmond…I want to see the bump an run. I want see bump drafting at Dega and I want Darlington to be mean. NASCAR is supposed to be tough, gritty, dirty and full of emotion. This entire season had only one memorable moment so far, AJ Almingdinger getting his first win. It was Raw and Real.

kb

Well you are right about fan loyalty. Strange bedfellows..sponsors and drivers. I remember the Dale Jr. commercial poking fun at fans when it was announced he was no longer driving the 8/Bud car…too funny, but true.

kazwit

That commercial is a brilliant illustration of the changing reality and the loyalty that is now gone. I kind of woke up to this last year when I was pulling for Kurt Busch and that 78 car. I was just about ready to care again before he jumped ship.

RussThe

The issue of sponsors is driven by the insatiable demand. For money. Both the teams and Nascar are in competition for it. Each of thing are pursuing their own agenda so don’t look for it to change. To date it seems there has been little effort made to control costs in a meaningful way.

kb

Was hoping the newly formed Race Alliance would address these issues, so far haven’t heard anything from them.

Russ

KB I was as well, although I doubt that is the cornerstone of their agenda.In fact one could argue that it is in the best interest of at least 3 teams to keep costs up as it reduces the real competition.
But if they dont rein in costs they will run out of companies willing to pay.

JohnQ

NASCAR chooses to remain deaf to fan complaints and blind to ever decreasing attendance. Sponsors may not. I am amazed at any business that would pour money into NASCAR given the return on the dollar exposure wise. There are just too many better ways to spend the advertising dollar. With continued free fall attendance I do not believe that wholesale sponsor flight can be far behind. What kind of idiot would sponsor truck or NW teams when literally no one is watching?

Russ

To JohnQ’s point about sponsors. Why would anyone want to pay anything to sponsor a team that isn’t a participant in the chase? Or certainly not full price. If/when you start seeing that the fox will really be in the hen house. Imagine this year 27 cars with blank quarter panels. Wonder how long it would take to get the new rules out?.

Michael in SoCal

” Why would anyone want to pay anything to sponsor a team that isn’t a participant in the chase? Or certainly not full price.”

And that my friends, was the cause of Clint Bowyer’s mysterious itchy arm.

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