Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week 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?
Some weeks there are several drivers who deserve the distinction, and Dover was one of those weeks. Still, while Martin Truex Jr. was impressive, leading the most laps for the third points race in a row and Aric Almirola toted home a surprise top five, Kevin Harvick had the most impressive non-winning performance, especially in context of his 2015 season to date. As impressive as Truex has been, he’s a full race worth of points behind Harvick in the standings. Harvick’s second-place run this week was his ninth top-two result of 2015. If you go back to the end of 2014, Harvick has finished first or second in 12 of his last 16 races. That’s championship caliber to the highest degree.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
Dover is a tough track on its tamest day, and there’s only so much the drivers can do to prepare. The race wasn’t only tough on the drivers this time around, either. It was tough on the track and on the cars. In the middle of the race, concrete was coming up in chunks on pit road, most notably in Tony Stewart‘s stall, where the team amassed a pile of pieces. Luckily, the racing surface remained intact, and there were no problems from the messy situation.
Dover also puts a lot of stress on cars and the suspension components and chassis take a brunt of the beating during a race. A camera on the underside of Jamie McMurray‘s machine showed how hard the suspension works every lap during the race. For Matt Kenseth, it had to work a little bit too hard. A failure on his right front suspension ended Kenseth’s day and added his name to a long list of frustrated drivers.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Denny Hamlin won the pole on Sunday, and early on it looked as though the recent streak of good fortune for Joe Gibbs Racing would remain intact, as all four cars were in the top 10 early on. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, none of them would still be there. Hamlin was drilled from behind by Clint Bowyer in the closing laps, turning his No. 11 around and relegating him to 21st place. Still, the team can take away that they are definitely even with the field in terms of speed these days, something that wasn’t the case a month ago. Hamlin’s post-race tweet summed up his day:
Well 💩. That didn't turn out as planned. Ran decent most of the day. Happy we are getting a little better each week. On to the next
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 31, 2015
When Jimmie Johnson gets to the front late in a race at Dover, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll stay there. Johnson took the lead on a late restart and held on from there through a couple more stops and starts to repeat the spring Dover win.
When… did it all go sideways?
The race was a fairly clean one for most of the day. An early incident for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brush with the wall and a tangle among Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier were the only real incidents in the first 375 laps. But with just under 25 to go, things got interesting. Kyle Busch got into Brian Scott, turning both cars and setting up a series of events that would send the race into extra innings.
The field got going again after the Busch-Scott incident only to face another caution three laps later as Bowyer got into the back of Hamlin in what looked to be an intentional shove, one which sent Hamlin spinning. Hamlin clipped Kurt Busch, who also went around. Again, the field got just three laps of green-flag action before another three-car incident set up the green-white-checkered finish when Casey Mears tried to get out of the groove with a flat tire only to be drilled from behind by Greg Biffle, collecting AJ Allmendinger in the resulting spin. Did the late-race messiness change the outcome? Johnson had been closing on Harvick when it started, but the cautions made them even, and being even with Johnson at Dover doesn’t usually bode well for his competitors.
Why… did Johnson win the race?
Johnson is good everywhere, but he has turned Dover, a track with a reputation for being difficult, into his own personal playground in recent years. Running second with 25 to go when the caution flew, Johnson made a somewhat questionable decision to stay out on older tires along with leader Harvick. It could have backfired (it did for Harvick), but Johnson took the lead on the restart and held onto it for two more.
The win put Johnson into some elite company. Just four other drivers had ten or more wins at a single track, and all of them are Hall of Famers. Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Sr. were the only drivers to hold that particular distinction until Johnson joined the party on Sunday with his tenth Dover victory. And Johnson is staring down another notable accomplishment of Earnhardt’s: his win total. Johnson needs two more trips to Victory Lane to tie Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time list. It took Earnhardt 676 starts to reach that total. Johnson currently has 484 Cup starts to his credit. Johnson deserves more respect than he’s given for his accomplishments, but will tying Earnhardt give it to him?
How… did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Truex (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): Once again, the No. 78 team tops the small team list (and it could be argued that they don’t belong on this list at this point in time). That’s the good news. More good news is that Truex led the most laps and looked like he could have won. The bad news? This is the third points race in a row where Truex has led the most laps, yet he doesn’t have a win to show for it. He’s second in points and he’s got 12 top 10s in 13 races this season, more than double his 2014 total. But this isn’t 2014, and Truex is justifiably frustrated.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 Chevy): It wasn’t a pretty top 20, but what matters to Bowman and TBR is that it was a top-20 finish at all. Bowman was three laps down to Johnson at the end, but he stayed out of trouble and drove by some pretty good cars to get to 20th and his best non-restrictor-plate finish since Bristol. It was a very good day for the TBR bunch.
"Nice job man, p20 – we will take that and run outta this place" says an excited Tommy Baldwin to Bowman! Great finish. #NASCAR
— Tommy Baldwin Racing (@TBR_Racing) May 31, 2015
Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 CRC/Brakleen Chevy): Like Bowman, Cassill might not have had the prettiest finish of the day but it was his best run since Martinsville with new baby Beckham (born Wednesday) along for the ride on Cassill’s door frame. Sunday was a solid and relatively uneventful day for Cassill, but for smaller teams with few cars, that’s exactly the kind of day they need to have, and this week, it paid off with a solid finish.
JTG Daugherty Racing; Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): Even before he got collected in a crash with three laps to go, Allmendinger was having a difficult race, searching for grip. He was collected with just three laps to go when Biffle got into Mears, but his team was able to get him to the finish. He ended up finishing 24th, higher than he’d run for most of the race.
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) May 31, 2015
Front Row Motorsports; Brett Moffitt & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 Ford & No. 38 The Pete Store Ford): The team continued its consistency among the three cars, this time with all inside the top 30. Gilliland finished 25th, Whitt 26th, and Moffitt 28th. That’s the kind of result they need to see on a regular basis, and it seems as though they are gaining some ground.
Germain Racing; Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): The No. 13 team does not have uneventful days. This week, Mears suffered some left front damage after early contact with Sam Hornish Jr. He also narrowly avoided a pair of crashes, including narrowly missing Hamlin’s late-race spin. Mears had not one but two tires go down in the final ten laps, and when he tried to get out of the groove for the second tire problem, Biffle plowed into him from behind, spinning him in front of Allmendinger. Mears limped to a 27th-place finish, a few spots worse than he’d been looking at before the late tire problems.
Long day, looked like 18th or 19th till a flat RR then 2 laps later a flat LF (random) Last stop on pit road was awesome! @GermainRacing #13
— Casey Mears (@CJMearsGang) May 31, 2015
That's it. P27. Casey is understandably confused as to why he became the pinball when he had tried to get out of the way… Tough day!
— Germain Racing (@GermainRacing) May 31, 2015
BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): The BK bunch was another team who needed some solid finishes this week, and they had mixed results. All three teams finished in the top 32, with Yeley 29th, Burton 30th and DiBenedetto 32nd. The finishes weren’t what the team had hoped for, but the positive is that all three made the race and were running at the end. Five times this year at least one of them has sat on the sidelines, but this week all three made the race and came home in one piece, all running at the end. That’s a starting point of not a great ending one.
Premium Motorsports; Brendan Gaughan (No 62 Chevy): Qualifying was half the battle for this team, which has missed a total of seven races, six with Gaughan. Gaughan is in the top 10 in Xfinity Series driver points, so this is not a driver issue. Owner Robinson has struggled to keep up with even the smallest of the other small teams this year, so Gaughan’s 34th-place finish with the car in one piece was not a disastrous result by any means. Every team has to start somewhere.
GoFAS Racing; Mike Bliss (No. 32 CorvetteParts.net Ford): Bliss and Co. never could get the No. 32 to handle well. They got a little TV time, but unfortunately it was at their expense; Bliss got moved up the track by Johnson after he’d held up the leaders for several laps. He finished 35th.
Circle Sport; Brian Scott (No. 33 Acme Chevy): The No. 33 is actually a full RCR effort whenever Scott or Ty Dillon races, but better equipment couldn’t keep Scott from his second hard crash in two days. He followed up his Xfinity Series tangle with a Cup tussle with Busch that sent both drivers to the garage. Scott was one of four drivers to take home the dreaded DNF this weekend with his 38th-place result.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise had a pretty strong car mid-race, running as high as 25th and inside the top30 for 60 laps or so. An electrical problem popped up in the second half, though, and finally ended Wise’s day in 40th place.
HScott Motorsports; Annett & Allgaier (No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 51 AccuDoc Solutions/FOE Chevy): When Bayne got together with Annett on lap 175, things went quickly downhill as Allgaier was collected in his teammate’s spin, with both suffering damage. They both got back on track but lost multiple laps due to repairs. A loose wheel on pit road grabbed a little airtime for Annett when it brought out a caution so it could be retrieved. Annett wound up 41st and Allgaier 42nd.