Who’s in the headline – There is domination, and then there is total domination. There have only been four drivers in the history of the sport who won 10 or more races at a single track. After Sunday that number increased by one as Jimmie Johnson rode to Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway for the 10th time in his career. Johnson put himself in position at the front of the field as the laps were winding down and then drove the car with four used tires better than drivers who had two or four new bolognas. Chad Knaus has the benefit of one of the best drivers in the history of the sport to make his decisions look good but it was a good call, in hindsight, to take track position over fresh rubber.
What happened – For the third race in a row, Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps in the race but came home short of the win. On the final restart, Truex was behind Kasey Kahne on the inside line and the No. 5 didn’t take off as quickly as Johnson did on the outside. In the ensuing insanity of a green-white-checkered finish, Truex was shuffled back into the field and ended up with a sixth-place finish. Denny Hamlin led the second most laps, but was caught up in an accident on lap 386 which relegated him to 21st. Kyle Larson scored his first top five of the season, coming home in third after eight top fives in 2014. Nine drivers led the race and had 15 lead changes. Johnson only led the race once but it was for the final 23 laps of the event.
Why you should care – Racing doesn’t quite have the historical element that baseball does but one thing is for sure, the gravity of some accomplishments can be measured by the rarity of its recurrences; 2,903 different people have run in a Cup Series race during the 67-year history of the sanctioning body. Only five drivers have managed to win double-digit races at an individual track. Sunday we witnessed history as Johnson put his name in that exclusive club. Whatever your opinion of Johnson and the current format of racing in the sport, you cannot deny his dominance at Dover is exceptional. He has eight wins at Martinsville and seven at Charlotte, so the possibility exists that he could end his career with 10 or more wins at three different tracks.
What your friends are talking about – Apparently the drivers have appointed a committee of their peers to meet with NASCAR formally on the state of the sport and concerns that they have about several different aspects of stock car racing at the highest level. NASCAR has listened to drivers individually for years and even has met with the teams in organized sessions in the past. However, this is one of the first times in recent history that an organized group, that were chosen by the body of drivers in the garage, had a formal sit down with the sanctioning body. For those fans who have been through focus groups in a large organization, you all know that the proof will be in the pudding. They can meet until they are blue in the face but unless they actually take action, the entire exercise is a practice of futility. Here’s hoping that the drivers were unified in trying to talk the decision makers into getting the front of the cars off of the ground to try and reduce the dependency of the cars on clean air.
Penalties were a topic of conversation this weekend for different reasons. First off, Johnson’s team appealed their penalty for technical inspection violations that was going to prevent them from picking pit stalls until the end of the process. The appeal put the penalty on delay which allowed Johnson to pick his stall in his earned position. When the appeal is heard, if the penalty is upheld, it will be enforced at a track where the penalty will not put the No. 48 team at as big of a disadvantage. The Hendrick Motorsports organization is playing the appeal process by the rules, even though it might seem like they are taking advantage of a loop hole.
The second penalty discussion involved Jennifer Jo Cobb leaving her truck after it was wrecked on track. She stepped toward the pack as they were driving by, which is a clear violation of the rule put in place after the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. accident last summer. While there is no specific level for the penalties, it will be a shame if Cobb is hit with a Carl Long-esque type penalty. Her small-budget operation would be crippled by a penalty of that magnitude and would ultimately cost the series an entry for an already shrinking entry list.
With Johnson’s 10 wins at Dover, he joins the very distinguished list of Cup drivers with double digit wins at a single race track. There are now five drivers who have won at least 10 races at a given racetrack. The four drivers, besides Johnson, are all in the Hall of Fame. Dale Earnhardt famously won 10 at Talladega. David Pearson accomplished the feat at Darlington. Darrell Waltrip won two handfuls of races at Bristol, Martinsville and North Wilkesboro. Richard Petty, as you would expect, is in a class by himself in this category with at least 10 wins at Daytona, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Richmond and Rockingham.
Frontstretch confirmed again this weekend that Tommy Baldwin Racing isn’t going anywhere. The group of racers that are getting it done with minimal funding scored a 20th-place finish with Alex Bowman at Dover this weekend. The little team that could is making small strides and just might shock the world sooner than you think.
The folks associated with the No. 98 team of Phil Parsons Racing were sporting Premium Motorsports shirts at Dover this weekend. On the Fanvision, people were heard communicating with Jay Robinson over the radio. It would seem that all signs are pointing to the rumors of the sale to Robinson are true. It is another blow to the single-car teams as not one but two are now gone since this move, in essence, makes one two-car team out of two single-car operations.
The stands at Dover were looking a bit less than full on Sunday. They have already removed some stands and cover others with tarps. While the solution to attendance is an extremely complex exercise that no one has an answer for at this point in time, one thing is for sure: California lost a date when most of the fans were shopping for souvenirs. The folks at Dover better get them away from the merchandise areas and back into the seats or they will be in danger of losing a date.
Who is mad – Hamlin sat on the pole for Sunday’s race and led the second most laps. As the laps were winding down he was poised to have a top-five finish and had the potential for a win depending on how the battle at the front played out. Unfortunately for Hamlin, Clint Bowyer had a fast car and was right on the back bumper of the No. 11 coming out of turn 2 on lap 386. Hamlin had a bobble or Bowyer had a good run, and whichever the case may be, Bowyer nudged the back of Hamlin’s car which caused him to shoot down the track. Hamlin corrected and the car shot back up the track, hitting Kurt Busch before nosing into the wall and killing the front clip.
Speaking of Kurt Busch, he didn’t lead during the event but was running just inside the top 10 for most of the event. He was set to score a top 10 when Hamlin’s car contacted him on the back straight. The incident relegated Busch to a 31st-place finish.
Kyle Busch and Brian Scott got together and brought out the caution that preceded the Hamlin/Busch yellow on lap 377. Busch was running in the top five for the entire event and was moving through traffic with just over 20 laps to go. Depending on whether you believe Busch’s version of the incident or Scott’s, one thing is for sure. Two cars ended up in a space that could only be occupied by one. Busch slid up the track and Scott when with him. Both cars pounded the outside wall and their days were ended. It is especially hard for Busch, who hopes to make the Chase by winning a race. He has to be in the top 30 in points in order to qualify, which means he has to average a 16th-place finish over the final 15 races of the “regular season”. A 36th-place run makes that average harder to maintain compared to the top five that he was ready to score.
Who is happy – Larson and his crew chief Chris Heroy, have to be smiling after this weekend. Larson burst onto the scene in 2014 with eight top-five runs. So far this season he had not managed a single run better than seventh before Sunday. Heroy will never admit to feeling pressure, but it had to be weighing on him that the sophomore slump has been hitting Larson so hard. Larson is still likely to be a star in this sport for years to come and rack up numerous wins but getting this monkey off of his back has to be a relief for both of them.
Speaking of no top fives, Aric Almirola made the Chase in 2014 thanks to his win at Daytona. This season his best run to date was an 11th place at Atlanta, Fontana and Kansas. At Dover, Almirola was outside of the top 15 for the first 300 laps of the event. He broke into the top 10 with just over 20 laps to go and made the right moves as the GWC unfolded to snare not only his first top 10 of the season, but his first top five, with a fifth-place run.
Landon Cassill had a whale of a week. He completed the Coca-Cola 600 and then ran 14 miles to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That was followed up by the birth of his son Beckham Bear Alan Cassill on Wednesday the 27th. Then Sunday he secured a 23rd-place finish at Dover. It was Cassill’s third best finish of the season and his best since a 21st-place run at Martinsville.
When the checkered flag flew
Johnson’s triumph at Dover was his 74th of his career in 484 career starts. His winning percentage is 15.3%, which is eighth on the all-time list. He is the only active driver in the top 15. The win is Johnson’s fourth of the season, which leads the series. As stated above this is Johnson’s 10th career victory at Dover. That leads all drivers by three. Bobby Allison and Richard Petty are tied for second with seven.
Harvick finished second on Sunday for his ninth top-two run of the 2015 season. This is Harvick’s second runner-up run in 29 career starts at Dover. Harvick’s second-place finish is his 38th career runner-up result. That is 16th on the all-time list.
Larson finished third for his first top-three run of the season. Larson’s podium was his first career top-three run at Dover. This was the sixth time in his short career that Larson has finished on the podium.
Brett Moffitt finished 28th to win the Rookie of the Race.
Dover was the 13th race that Harvick and Johnson have finished 1–2. Johnson has come out victorious in eight of the 13 events.
Johnson has led 2,999 laps in his career at Dover.
Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 12 races without wins and their standing in points:
2. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Aric Almirola
12. Paul Menard
13. Ryan Newman
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $5,313,509 in the first 13 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,108,310.
In the Xfinity Series, it has been $948,362 for the winners and $185,187 for last place after 12 races.
After six Truck races, the winner has $342,331 and the last loser has banked $63,333.
What is in the cooler – The Monster Mile finally bared its teeth a little on Sunday with more than one caution flag for actual wrecks. In the previous few years the cars getting out of shape enough to make contact with the wall could be counted on one hand. It makes fans at least think the drivers are truly pushing the cars as hard as they can when they actually see them lose control. Unfortunately, the number of on-track passes for the lead could also be counted on one hand, which makes for an average ranking at best. Even three restarts within the last 17 laps of the race couldn’t make it a higher ranking than two cold Bonzai Black IPAs from 3rd Wave Brewing in Delmar, Delware.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The band of brothers in the Cup series head up the road 160 miles to the three cornered racetrack in the honeymoon capital of the world. The race will be 400 miles in the Pocono mountains and will be an exercise in compromise because each lap sees the cars have to negotiate three unique corners. The race can be seen on FOX Sports 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday June 7. If you can’t see the race on television you can hear it on your local MRN affiliate or NASCAR SiriusXM Channel 90. If you want to have some fun next weekend, do a shot every time someone says tricky triangle during the broadcast. You’ll be lucky to see the checkered flag.