Who’s in the headline – Kevin Harvick dominated the race and dominated the headlines. He drove from a 15th-place starting spot, due to qualifying being rained out, to the lead in just 23 laps. From then on, Harvick led 355 of the final 377 laps, only losing the lead during pit stops when drivers took two tires or stayed out. Harvick was 23 points down from advancing to the final 12 on points so the only way he was positive he would advance was to win the race. From the drop of the green flag he left no doubt that he was going to do exactly that.
What happened – Jimmie Johnson started the race fifth and was headed toward the front of the field to challenge Harvick for the lead when he faced a problem in the rear of his car. It turned out a failed axle seal caused the rear end gear lube to leak away from the rear gear, and 37 laps in the garage eliminated him from contention for a win and ultimately from a shot to move to the second round of the Chase. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Jamie McMurray on the final restart and held on, securing the 12th and final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch ran in the top five from the second restart of the race until nearly the end and finished second to Harvick. That allowed Busch to finish one point ahead of the cutoff and advance to the next round. McMurray, Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer are the four drivers failing to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Why you should care – Coming into the Chase, Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Busch were tied for the top spot. Busch finished 37th at Loudon and did what he had to do today to make it to the next round. Johnson’s misfortune resulted in a 41st-place finish and he came up short in advancing. There is some room to rebound in this iteration of the Chase, but it doesn’t prevent one of the drivers who led the series in wins during the regular season from failing to make it to the second round.
What your friends are talking about – Austin Theriault wrecked in the Truck race at Las Vegas on Saturday night. His car plowed nose first into the outside wall and made contact where there was no SAFER barrier installed. While he thankfully survived, he has a compression fracture in his lower back. There are no more excuses for not having SAFER barriers on any track facing walls. Some enterprising lawyer needs to sue SMI, ISC and NASCAR for creating an unsafe working environment.
A caution was extended for a bird on the track on Sunday. When is NASCAR going to learn that there is natural selection in the gene pool of all living creatures. If a woodland creature wanders onto the grounds of a racetrack and is foolish enough to stick around with all of the activity going on around a stock car race, then they deserve to meet their demise on the track. These cars are strong enough to run over a bird or rabbit and not be damaged extensively.
Tony Stewart announced this week, in what is one of the worst kept secrets of the season, that 2016 will be his final year in Sprint Cup. He is not hanging up the helmet, he is merely getting out of the top series of NASCAR. Stewart is one of the best racecar drivers of all time and will be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee for NASCAR. He’s going to still be actively involved as a car owner, but he’s also going to run in many more forms of motorsport at some of the bucket list races he’s always wanted to try but didn’t have time.
Restarts were still a big topic this week so NASCAR doubled the size of the restart zone. Thankfully there was no discussion of any of the restarts during the event. Whether that was due to Brad Keselowski being flagged at Loudon or the larger zone, we can only hope they are done being a topic during the final seven races of the Chase.
The preliminary 2016 Cup schedule is out and, shocking absolutely no one, there are no changes to the Chase races and minimal alterations to the entire schedule. As much as everyone would like to think that NASCAR listens and would think about mixing things up, they are once again showing that they aren’t going to do anything to upset their old boy network apple cart.
Who is mad – Johnson owns Dover. Unfortunately for him, a failed rear axle seal resulted in 37 laps in the garage and an end to his Chase. That also signaled an end to his quest for a record tying seventh championship for another year. The No. 48 didn’t charge into the Chase but they were running solidly through the first two races and headed to the front at Dover when the rear end problem surfaced. For now Johnson will have to look to be a spoiler for someone else’s title hopes in 2015.
McMurray was in position to advance to the second round before Landon Cassill done blowed up on lap 372. When the race went back to green, he got a little loose heading into turn 3 and Earnhardt was able to power around on the outside. With the dependency of these cars on the air, McMurray was unable to get back around NASCAR’s most popular driver. Since Earnhardt had six bonus points coming into the round the two tied for 12th. The tiebreaker is the best finish in the round, and Sunday’s third trumped McMurray’s fourth, so Jamie Mac is left to battle for fifth over the final seven races.
Menard put himself in position to capitalize on one of his six best racetracks to advance to round two. He was one point out of the transfer spot coming into Sunday and had to feel confident that he and the No. 27 team could replicate their eighth-place finish from the first Dover race and move on to the round of 12. Instead, he started 14th and, unlike Harvick, went straight backwards at the drop of the green. He was quickly in the 20s and spent nearly the entire second half of the event running 25th, finishing the race three laps down and on the outside looking in at the Chase.
Who is happy – While you couldn’t tell it from the television coverage, since NBC Sports didn’t bother to interview him at all after the race, Aric Almirola put together a fifth-place run on Sunday. He is now three points behind Kasey Kahne for 17th in points which, thanks to the overly inflated points totals handed to Chase drivers, is all he has left to fight for. The Chase is obviously a big story at this time of year but NASCAR likes to feed us a line of garbage that the other drivers still matter and they are still racing for something. Apparently, through the actions of the sanctioning body and their broadcast partner, that is not the case at all.
Earnhardt Jr. was on the outside looking in when the race went back to green on lap 358 and was headed to racing the final seven races to try and finish fifth after Homestead. Fortunately for him he got one more chance at a restart and made the most of it. Making the pass on the outside, where few were able to go on restarts Sunday, was enough to move Earnhardt ahead of McMurray and into the next round. Earnhardt knows that his team has some work to do, but also knowing that Talladega is the final race of this round has to make him feel good about heading to the final eight.
Kurt Busch started the race seventh and marched forward to the top three by the midway point of the race. Unfortunately for him, later in the race his left front seemed to have a situation where the jack bolt was backing off and causing the car to de-wedge. His team brought the car in and attempted to fix the situation but the car still seemed to have something amiss. Busch wrestled his way to a 17th-place finish and managed to get himself to the second round thanks to his persistence and ability.
When the checkered flag flew
Harvick’s win is his 31st in 531 career starts. This was Harvick’s first career win at Dover. This is Harvick’s third win of 2015. Harvick is now 24th on the all-time wins list, one behind Dale Jarrett. Harvick led 581 of the 967 laps in the first three Chase races. 355 laps led at Dover was a career-high number of laps led in a single event for Harvick.
Kyle Busch finished second for the fifth top-two in his career at Dover. Busch came home in the top-two for the seventh time in 2015. This was Busch’s 31st career runner-up run. That ties him with Benny Parsons for 22nd on the all-time list.
Earnhardt Jr. came home third for the sixth podium finish in his career at Dover. This was Earnhardt’s ninth top-three of the season. Earnhardt has run top-three 88 times in his career. That is 27th on the all-time list.
Matt DiBenedetto finished 34th to claim Rookie of the Race honors.
Round one of the Chase is over and done. Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and Harvick advanced to the Contender round thanks to victories. The other drivers advancing and their point positions:
- Kurt Busch
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Busch
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $9,685,468 in 29 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,282,568.
In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,986,205 for the winners and $368,150 for last place in 28 races.
After 18 Truck races the winner has $868,151 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $166,555.
What is in the cooler – Once again, Mile the Monster was about as toothless as he can be. Eight cautions flew and one of them involved more than one car. A competition caution and two debris cautions that both appeared to be bogus just left fans looking for more. The amount of talk after the race about difficulty passing was painful, but also emphasized how poor the package is considering how aero dependent the cars were on a 1-mile track. On the plus side, Harvick led 355 laps and was the only driver that managed to make a pass on the track for the lead. There was the contrived excitement revolving around the elimination aspect of the Chase so we’ll give it two Big Beef Porters from 3rd Wave Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Contender round begins at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night, October 10th. The only night race in the Chase begins at 7:00 pm and can be seen on NBC. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. For those not near a TV that would like to watch the race it can be see on the NBCSports.com LiveExtra stream.