Who’s in the headline – The 2016 season has been anything but stellar for Matt Kenseth. After a near miss at Daytona he’s only managed one top 5 finish before Sunday, and that as a fourth last weekend at Kansas. Sunday Kenseth was in the mix but didn’t look like he’d be in contention for the win until the penultimate restart. Jimmie Johnson had trouble on that restart and took out a number of race cars including several who were contending for the win. Kenseth was able to grab the lead thanks to Johnson’s trouble and held off all comers over the final 47 laps to claim his first win of the season.
What happened – Kevin Harvick led the first 42 laps from the pole before Carl Edwards beat him off of pit lane during the competition caution. Harvick regained the lead and dominated the race until an accident involving Matt DiBenedetto occurred on the backstretch. Another poor pit stop dropped Harvick behind the front row for the restart and his day never looked as promising again. Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Edwards and especially Kyle Larson all took turns at the point with runs that looked like they had the potential to win the race. In typical Johnson fashion at Dover, the No. 48 did not lead until a pit call put him in front for the restart on lap 354. Johnson had a transmission issue that resulted in an accordion wreck on the front straight, damaging no fewer than 18 race cars and bringing out a red flag. On the restart after the red Kenseth held onto the lead and withstood a furious charge from Larson and Chase Elliott over the final 35 laps.
Why you should care – Whether you watch Cup races for the wrecks or not, there is no question that the “Monster Mile” has been toothless for several years. The track was notorious for cars spinning on their own as drivers were right on the edge throughout races. Resulting incidents frequently gathered other cars and saw heaping piles of smoldering sheet metal gathered against the inside wall. While there weren’t several multi-car wrecks, the “Big One” was a classic Dover melee. The new aero package seemed to make the cars more difficult to drive and also opened the door for racing from the top to the bottom of the track. The new package still needs work but Sunday was proof again that things are heading in the right direction.
What your friends are talking about – The battle over Kerry Earnhardt‘s right to use his birth name continues with Teresa Earnhardt’s lawyers issuing a statement this week. A portion of the statement is quite telling: “The naming of any project called ‘Earnhardt Collection’ causes confusion as being associated with Dale Earnhardt, as the Dale Earnhardt brands and marks are so diverse across multiple industries and philanthropic causes. … [And it] could be used to exclude Dale Earnhardt Inc., the designated steward of Dale’s legacy, from the same use,” The ‘exclude Dale Earnhardt Inc.’ portion tells everything you need to know. It is all about money that Dale Earnhardt’s widow is losing out on. Interestingly, she has not made any such claims toward Earnhardt Outdoors, which is a venture by Kerry, Dale and Kelley Earnhardt. Could it be that she doesn’t want to go up against someone with the net worth of Dale Jr.?
Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, was suspended for a race after a violation of the latest version of the lug nut rule was discovered after the race in Kansas last weekend. The front tire changer, Josh Leslie, was also suspended through May 18th. NASCAR has not provided details of the violation but rumors are flying through the garage. A prominent speculation is that Joe Gibbs Racing changed one of the studs on the wheel to a smooth stud instead of threaded. The lug nut was glued to the wheel but not secured to the stud due to the lack of threads. If true, it is an example of thinking in the gray area of the rules that is so desperately lacking in today’s NASCAR. One would think that NASCAR would have issued a technical bulletin to clarify the rule if this were the violation so it very well may have been something different that resulted in the violation.
NASCAR hasn’t made an official announcement but, as Tony Gibson alluded to in this week’s Tech Talk, the rumor in the garage is that there will be aerodynamic changes to the cars for the All-Star race. The last two years NASCAR has talked about using the All-Star race as a test run for aero changes but scrapped the idea at the last minute. The word is a change designed to reduce side force is on the drawing board. We’ll see if they go through with it next weekend.
Michael Waltrip Racing has been out of business for six months but they still have some unfinished business. A former tire changer for the organization, Brandon Hopkins, is suing the company for blacklisting him after he took a leave of absence. Hopkins was hit by a car on pit lane and required shoulder surgery. His suit claims MWR dismissed him and falsely accused him of stealing a pit gun. The accusation led to Hopkins’ loss of an unpaid internship with another Cup team and a paid position with a Truck team. MWR sought to have the suit thrown out but a judge in Mecklenburg County refused to do so this week.
Silly Season is ramping up early this year, partly due to the switch of Stewart Haas Racing to Ford. Ryan Newman is in the final year of his contract with Richard Childress Racing. Ty Dillon appears to be ready to make the move to Cup and, to this point in time, RCR has not been able to secure sponsorship for a fourth team. At the same time, despite the continued assurances that he is sticking with SHR, long time Chevrolet driver Harvick is rumored to be jumping ship to another Chevy organization. The latest rumor has Kasey Kahne shifting over to the HScott Motorsports entry currently piloted by Clint Bowyer. Harvick would move to Hendrick Motorsports to take the wheel of the No. 5. It would seem like an odd choice to leave a team that won the title in 2014 and was knocking on the door last season to go to the supposed test car for Hendrick. Then again, nobody knows how much money Harvick receives from Chevrolet and they might be trying hard to entice the most recent title winner for the bowtie brand to stay in the fold.
Darlington paint schemes continue to be unveiled and one of the latest is a homage to Smokey Yunick by the No. 13 team of Casey Mears. The black and gold scheme will bring attention to the team and hopefully will generate more buzz around the travesty that is Yunick’s exclusion from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Who is mad – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was confident at the start of the race running at the front of the pack. He slipped back to the back half of the top 10 and eventually was back toward 15th when the huge wrecked happened. Earnhardt carved his way through the wreck and looked to be clear when Mears car shot up the track and clipped Earnhardt’s. The end result was a 32nd place finish.
Edwards was racing for a million dollars from his sponsor Stanley if he could win the race. Edwards ran in the top 5 for much of the race and was making a run back toward the lead on the restart after the huge wreck when his car got out of shape and Larson made contact with his left rear. Edwards slid to the inside wall on the back straight and made huge contact. A 28th place finish was a significant disappointment based on the speed he had in his car.
Joey Logano was clawing his way to the front of the pack over the entire day. He was in the top 5 and looking to take a shot at the win when the huge wreck happened on the front straight. Logano was caught up in and and ended the race in 28th place nine laps down. After so much success in 2016, the lack of a win this season, and wrecks the last two weekends has to be working on his psyche.
Who is happy – While Larson might be disappointed due to his failure to get by Kenseth in the late race laps, he has to be encouraged by his success this weekend. Larson has four finishes of 34th or worse this season and Sunday was only his second top 5 of the year. Larson is 87 races into his career and most everyone thought he’d be in Victory Lane by now. It is yet to be seen if it will translate into greater success coming down the road but he has to be grinning after this race.
Kahne has been the subject of rumors throughout the garage this week about where his future will take him. Whether he’ll admit it or not, he has to hear them. His results this season have been nearly as poor as Larson’s. Kahne has two top 5s after Sunday and three finishes of 23rd or worse. With one win since 2013, his boss has to be putting some pressure on for him to perform. This is a small step in the right direction.
It was mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Elliott continues to set career best finishes and Sunday was his latest. Elliott’s first top 3 of his Cup career saw the Rookie of the Year candidate disappointed because he thought he had a shot to win. Elliott is continuing to show speed in his freshman year and there are few who believe he won’t score a win before the end of the season.
When the checkered flag flew:
Matt Kenseth scored his 37th victory in his 590th career start in the Cup series.
This is Kenseth’s third triumph at the concrete mile in Dover, Delaware.
The win is Kenseth’s first of the season and makes him the seventh different race winner of the season in the 12th race of the year.
Kenseth is tied for 19th on the All-Time win list with Kyle Busch and Bobby Isaac.
Kyle Larson crossed the line in the second position. This was Larson’s best career finish at Dover International Speedway.
Larson’s runner-up run was his first top 2 of the season.
This was the fourth time in his career that Larson has come home in second. That ties him for 93rd on the All-Time list of second place finishers.
Chase Elliott rounded out the podium at Dover.
Elliott’s first top 3 run ties him with 95 other drivers for 238th on the All-Time list with one top 3 finish each.
This was his first top 3 of the year and his career.
Elliott was crowned the Rookie of the Race thanks to his third place run.
Currently locked into the Chase thanks to multiple wins, and assuming they attempt to run the remaining races before Richmond, are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kenseth will be locked in assuming there are fewer than 10 winners in the next 14 races. The remaining drivers who would make the Chase based on points and their point position:
- Kurt Busch
- Chase Elliott
- Joey Logano
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Jamie McMurray
- Ryan Blaney
- Kasey Kahne
What is in the cooler – This race had everything but someone crossing the finish line upside down and on fire. A dominant car that faded, multiple on-track passes for the lead, racing grooves from the bottom to the top and a stellar battle for the lead at the end. If you came away from Dover wanting more then it might be time for you to look for another sport to follow. As a result we’re giving six ice cold Double D Double IPAs from Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The next race on the Cup schedule is all about the win. At least that is what they tell us. The All-Star race, with all of its gimmicks, is on FS1 next Saturday night May 21st at 7:00 PM. It can also be heard on local MRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.