Who’s In The Headline
Martin Truex, Jr. is on fire to start this Chase. Round 1 has been a showcase for he and the No. 78 team, who won the first race at Chicagoland, then came close in the second at New Hampshire before late restarts shuffled them back. At Dover, they had the second-fastest car but fortunately for Truex, the jackman of Jimmie Johnson put the No. 48 car behind through a devastating penalty. That allowed Truex, a New Jersey native to step up and flat out stomp the field.
The caution never flew again to let Johnson get back in contention and no other car was competitive with Truex during the event. The result was a butt-whipping with six cars winding up on the lead lap.
Qualifying was rained out, so the field was set by points. That put the Chase contenders in the front eight rows and made the race an easy showcase for the title contenders. Brad Keselowski started on pole and led the first five laps. Truex took the point with an on-track pass for the lead on lap six and led until lap 20. Kyle Busch then took the lead from Truex, up front for 102 of the next 104 circuits before Truex regained control. During that time, the top 12 spots in the Chase were all but flushed out; early problems for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray doomed their chances of advancing, causing two of the race’s four cautions.
Truex led until Johnson took the point on a lap 189 restart. Johnson, the all-time leader at the Monster Mile with ten victories then appeared to seize control until a pit road penalty put him a lap down.
That was all she wrote. The race went the final 202 laps caution free, part of a clean start to the playoffs so Johnson spent the remainder of the race fighting to stay in the Lucky Dog spot. The end result was a seventh-place finish for Johnson, with six cars on the lead lap and Tony Stewart, Larson, McMurray and Chris Buescher eliminated from the Chase.
Why You Should Care
The talking heads are going to point out that Truex won the first round of the Chase with his two race wins (and nearly a third at New Hampshire). While that is true, the Johnson team easily could have won the two races that Truex did were it not for two pit road miscues. The Joe Gibbs Racing brigade is still the fastest in the sport right now but Hendrick Motorsports, and the No. 48 in particular, are going to have something to say about it now that they survived their toughest round in the Chase.
What Your Friends Are Talking About
NASCAR has expanded the list of penalties that can result in an “encumbered” finish for all three of their national series. Such a finish will result in a driver not being able to advance to the next round based on the victory. The penalties now include post-race incorrect ground clearance violations; post-race incorrect body height violations; and failure to meet minimum weight. While John Hunter Nemechek‘s truck from New Hampshire failed postrace at New Hampshire NASCAR has decided not to retroactively apply the penalty. The sport’s push to make every win appear legal is now crystal clear; the big question is whether they’ll actually enforce it.
Tony Stewart met with the media this week for required Chase availability, during which he was quite candid about the frustration that is leading to his retirement from NASCAR competition. Part of the interview included this quote: “When we come off the truck [on Friday], we fight the same thing for three days and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. That’s what’s so frustrating for me as a driver. That is part of why I’m ready to do something different is because I can’t make a difference anymore. I can’t do different things with my feet and different things with my hands and run a different line and fix the problem. I used to be able to do that. I can’t do that anymore. You just get so frustrated you can’t see straight.” Take from that what you will, although Stewart is 100% correct engineers have a bigger role in ensuring a Cup car goes fast than ever before.
DJ Kennington will make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Phoenix in November. One of the most successful drivers in the history of Canadian NASCAR competition will be in a Premium Motorsports ride for his maiden effort, driving either the No. 55 or No. 98. Kennington has run several events at Phoenix in his career although he’s not scored a top 10 in XFINITY or Trucks there.
Bryan Clauson Racing will continue and maintain its mission to provide knowledge and experience to drivers and families who are looking to make their way into the world of open-wheel racing. The Clausons’ father, Tim, and longtime partner Richard Marshall will keep the legacy alive as Clauson-Marshall Racing. The team will be back on track October 20 at the Jason Leffler Memorial in Wayne City, Ill. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who has driven for the team for some time and is a longtime friend of Clauson and Leffler, will pilot the car.
The NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine is set for October 10-12 at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. 13 drivers have been invited to compete in examination of their driving ability, physical fitness and other attributes to determine who will make up the 2017 class. Along with six current drivers from the current program the new recruits include Hailie Deegan, the daughter of Brian Deegan, the most decorated freestyle motocross athlete in history. Hope Hornish, the niece of Sam Hornish, Jr. and Macy Causey, the youngest driver to ever compete in the combine at age 15 are also on the roster.
Who Is Mad
For the second time in three races, Jimmie Johnson had a car capable of winning a race and lost it thanks to a pit road miscue. A speeding penalty for Johnson put him in arrears in Chicago and kept his ride from scoring the win. This week, it was a premature jump for the jackman that resulted in a pass through penalty which ultimately cost the entire team. The Hendrick organization has clearly found their missing speed; now, they need to tighten it up on pit lane.
Chip Ganassi cannot be pleased. His team came into the weekend thinking they had a very realistic chance to put both cars into the round of 12. Instead, they had an electrical issue on Kyle Larson’s car and an engine failure on Jamie McMurray’s ride. Those issues effectively took both drivers out of contention and resulted in yet another year of CGR failing to even contend for a NASCAR championship.
Kevin Harvick could not have been too happy Sunday. His car broke a track bar mount early in the race. They went behind the wall and fixed it; however, by the time Harvick returned to the track he was over 40 laps down. Luckily, the No. 4 team won at New Hampshire and was guaranteed to advance to the next round. While the old “never say die” attitude is in play here, it had to suck driving around turning laps so far down there was no chance for a decent finish. If they didn’t pay points for finishes beyond 20th or 25th, NASCAR would have prevented an exercise in futility.
Who Is Happy
Austin Dillon came into the race feeling like he would need a little luck to make it to the next round if he didn’t win the race. Luck was on his side, though thanks to the tough breaks for Larson and McMurray. Dillon outran Stewart, putting him inside the final 12 – not bad for his first ever playoff appearance. One-and-a-half mile tracks have long been Dillon’s strong suit and there are two in a row the next two weeks on the schedule. He feels confident that his team can make it to the round of eight and the schedule just might help him.
Chase Elliott advanced to the next round of the Chase thanks to three solid runs in the first round. Two third places, sandwiching a 13th-place run puts Elliott squarely in the mix to continue on to Homestead. The speed Hendrick Motorsports has found has trickled to all their teams; the four-car outfit spent almost the entire race inside the top 10. The confidence for this rookie most certainly bodes well for the potential of the No. 24 to keep advancing.
It seems ridiculous to say it, but Jeff Gordon scored a top 10 and should be happy about it. In his seventh start in the No. 88 this season, Gordon scored his first top-10 finish. Again riding the wave of newfound Hendrick speed, the four-time Cup champion and future Hall of Fame driver finally landed his temporary ride in 10th place. Unfortunately, this experiment of not putting an unproven driver or drivers in the No. 88 to give them a shot at Cup racing has done next to nothing for the team and their sponsors.
When The Checkered Flag Flew
- Martin Truex, Jr. took the win at Dover International Speedway in his 398th career start.
- It is Truex’s fourth triumph of 2016. That ties him with Kyle Busch and Keselowski for most in the series.
- This is Truex’s second career victory at Dover. It’s the first time he’s won twice at a track during his career.
- The win is his seventh for Truex at the Cup level. That ties him for 65th on the all-time list with several drivers, including Jamie McMurray and A.J. Foyt.
- Kyle Busch finished second for his eighth top-2 result of 2016.
- Sunday marked Busch’s sixth finish of first or second at Dover in his career.
- Busch has 35 second-place runs in his career, tying him with Harry Gant for 19th on the all-time list.
- Chase Elliott rounded out the podium at Dover with his fifth top 3 of 2016.
- Sunday marked Elliott’s second career third-place finish in two career starts at Dover.
- Elliott has five career top 3s, a total which ties him for 138th on the all-time list.
- Elliott’s finish won Rookie of the Race for the Hendrick Motorsports Driver. He continues to lead the points in the year-end award over Ryan Blaney.
The 12 drivers still in the Chase have had their points reset so they are now all tied for first in the round of 12. The drivers still eligible for the 2016 Cup championship (in the order in which they finished Round 1):
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Brad Keselowski
- Matt Kenseth
- Joey Logano
- Chase Elliott
- Jimmie Johnson
- Denny Hamlin
- Carl Edwards
- Kurt Busch
- Austin Dillon
What Is In The Cooler
So much for single-groove racing at Dover. The field spread out quickly, drivers running from the top of the track to the bottom, resulting in a historically tight track giving the leaders plenty of room to lap cars. The entire second half of the race was run caution free and just six cars finished on the lead lap.
In short, it was an old fashioned butt-kicking by Johnson and Truex at the Monster Mile. The drama surrounding Chase elimination also didn’t materialize once the two CGR teams fell off the pace. As a result, we’ll give this race two lukewarm Candi Belgian Tripels from Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company. (It’s real and it’s local; look it up!)
Where Do You Point Your DVR For Next Week?
The only night race in the Chase is Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Will the No. 78 and Truex, who dominated this May’s Coca-Cola 600 lead every lap this time around? Or can Johnson, once an unstoppable force at this track finally put a full race together?
The Bank of America 500 will be broadcast on NBC and can also be streamed on NBCSports LiveExtra. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET and can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate along with SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.