Johnson dominates Party in the Poconos 400, extends NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead.
Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane following his win at Pocono. (ASP, Inc.)
Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s team showed up to Pocono Raceway with something to prove.
After being penalized for jumping a restart the previous weekend in the 400-miler at Dover that cost the team a victory, Johnson was all business as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit hit Pocono’s quirky, 2.5-mile layout.
And that spelled bad news for everyone else, as Johnson laid waste to the field in the mountains of Pocono. Among the top two in speeds during each practice session, Johnson also sat on the pole when qualifying was rained out and, thus, had his choice of pit stall.
Not one to show strength early in the weekend only to fade late, Johnson dominated the Party in the Poconos 400 on Sunday, leading 128 of 160 laps en route to his third victory of the 2013 campaign. And in doing so, increased his lead in the championship point standings to 51 over second-place Carl Edwards — a full race-worth of a points advantage.
“That car had a ton of speed in it, and not only the car but I think our engine really had a chance to shine today, and the configuration here and the fact that we’re able to shift, our engine shop works really hard to make that power,” Johnson said. “Today it showed, and then at times when we needed to conserve fuel we could get that done, as well.
“I felt like it was a very well-rounded weekend for us — clearly with speed, (and with) that speed you need power, and then when we needed to back it down and save some fuel we could do that, too.”
Johnson, as he’s prone to do, understated the driver’s role in the victory — the 63rd of his illustrious career.
On four occasions inside of 40 laps to go, the driver was forced to hold off all-comers on restarts — which was his undoing at Dover. After starting second in that event, he beat race leader Juan Pablo Montoya to the line when Montoya lagged on the start.
Each driver had a different version of what happened, but Johnson was clearly still stewing about the victory-sapping penalty a week later.
“As racers, we need to work any and every angle we can,” Johnson said prior to Sunday’s race. “I think we need to put a little more weight in the officiating and how the rule reads and how it’s intended to be enforced.”
His restarts were spot-on at Pocono, though, as Johnson flawlessly fended off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, and others as the race wound down. His trump card being that, as the leader, he controlled the restarts.
“I wanted to prove a point and show everybody really what could happen in that restart zone than what happened to me last week, but I couldn’t do it to a teammate (Earnhardt),” Johnson said. “So I guess if things stay the way they do, I’ll save that for another day and prove my point even more.”
Riding a commanding lead in the standings and with a trio of valuable wins, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can now employ a strategy that led the duo to five consecutive Cup championships in 2006-10: Use the remainder of the regular season as a live-fire test session for the Chase.
Also, Johnson’s wife, Chandra, is expecting the couple’s second child, due in September — right about the time the 26-race regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
“If Chani goes into labor early, I don’t have to worry about Richmond, honestly,” Johnson said of the regular season finale. “That is what I’m working so hard for. I always work hard anyway, but it sure takes some pressure off if we lock early and don’t have to worry about Richmond.”
That could be further bad news for the competition, as Sunday proved that a motivated Jimmie Johnson can be the most dangerous force on the Sprint Cup circuit.
1. Denny Hamlin needs Pocono more than ever
A crash last Sunday at Dover International Speedway after a flat tire dented Denny Hamlin's hope of a strong run and probably didn't feel the best for a guy just weeks removed from a pretty serious back injury. Hamlin, however, seems to be worried about one thing: Making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
One of — make that two of — the best things Hamlin his in his uphill climb to the redemption of entry into NASCAR's playoff system is a pair of visits to Pocono Raceway. You may remember that Hamlin won his first Cup race at Pocono in 2006 even after he cut a tire and crashed one-fourth of the way in. Since, he has four wins and sits just two behind Pocono active wins leader Jeff Gordon.
"We were certainly disappointed with the way Dover ended for us, and now it’s up to our FedEx team to dig down and capitalize on some of our better tracks coming up," Hamlin said.
Hamlin's continuing climb starts this week from 26th in Sprint Cup points, some 224 points behind the leader Jimmie Johnson. To get to 20th and become eligible for one of two at-large bids, Hamlin needs to make up 74 points on Ryan Newman (currently 20th) between Sunday and Richmond in September. And he’ll need, at the very least, one win.
A victory this weekend — and season sweep of Pocono, if he's really feeling greedy — would be immensely helpful.
2. Drivers appreciate Pocono's shift work
Plenty of scenes in Days of Thunder feature an oddity that Sprint Cup drivers never use: shifting mid-corner or mid-straightaway as a device to find more speed while already racing at normal pace. It won't be exactly how Cole Trickle does it in the movie this weekend at Pocono, but drivers will get to at least act like they are during each green flag lap.
Pocono's odd three-corner layout demands slow speeds in two corners that lay ahead of two extremely fast straightaways. The contrast bogs a car's engine in a low RPM range if just one gear for an entire lap is being used, which in turn depletes peak acceleration. Since the track opened in 1971, most drivers shifted between third and fourth gears to maximize performance until a new gear rule unexpectedly made that impossible in 2005. The gear rule changed again in 2011 and brought shifting back.
"It’s a fun race track and with the shifting it’s a really tough racetrack. It’s almost like a road course, it’s really tough on the cars and it’s a mentally challenging racetrack," said Carl Edwards.
"It's like a three-cornered, left handed road course, making it a lot of fun to drive," said Paul Menard.
Kasey Kahne (ASP, Inc.)
3. Kahne hoping confidence in Francis keys Pocono rebound
Kasey Kahne just made a mistake last weekend.
In the closing laps at Dover, Kahne got loose entering Turn 1 with what was probably a top-5 car. The car snapped around, slid sideways and then backed into the wall just enough to inflict damage requiring some extensive pit road repairs. He's trying to rebound at Pocono, a place where he once crashed briefly in the bushes lining the backstretch — and was pretty introspective before this weekend about his relationship with longtime crew chief Kenny Francis.
“We've had some things thrown at us over the years, and we've just always stuck together," Kahne said. “He's given me more opportunities to win in the situations we've been in than anybody else ever would have. I just have a lot of respect for Kenny Francis. There is no one else I want to work with, and I think he feels the same way right now. That is where we are at. We both feel that we have a team surrounding us that is capable of doing a lot this season.”
'Doing a lot' would also include a strong performance for Kahne at Pocono, a track typically not within his wheelhouse as far as finishes go. Kahne did win there in 2008, but he has just six top-10 finishes in 18 career starts. He finished runner-up in last July's rain-shortened race to break a spell of five finishes averaging 23rd.
4. Secret of Pocono success can be found in the tunnel
It's a corner sandwiched between straightaways of 3,055 feet and 1,780 feet. With a radius of just 750 feet, it's an element of Pocono that pales in comparison to the grand scale of the 2.5-mile behemoth. Its design hails from a place with just a bit more history: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It's Pocono's Turn 2, or more affectionately known as the "Tunnel Turn" thanks to its proximity above the tunnel allowing infield vehicle access at the track. And it's the corner that can make or break a lap around Pocono.
Scratch that, it's a corner that 160 times in Sunday's race could royally screw up the best of runs just by setting a wheel a little bit off line.
"Finding the edge and the limits is a little bit tougher on such a big racetrack with three unique corners," said Jeff Gordon. "The tunnel turn has always been one of the most hair-raising experiences on our schedule. It takes full commitment. When you hit it right, it's a beautiful thing."
5. Only Joey Logano plans to play doubles this weekend
Kyle Busch — rightly or wrongly — has generated some scorn thanks to the whippings he's applied lately to the fields of drivers in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. He's won seemingly every race every week in the lower divisions. That's obviously not the whole truth, but his dominance has been domineering.
It has reignited the debate about why NASCAR allows the “major league” drivers to still compete in the lower levels. That battle should cool off this weekend, however, as Busch plans to just use one driving suit for the Sunday event. He won't travel to the first Nationwide standalone event of the year at Iowa Speedway or to the second for the Truck Series at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.
In fact, just one driver among the Pocono Cup ranks will play role of helmet-carrying jet setter this weekend. Joey Logano will scoot over to Iowa for Saturday's race following Sprint Cup practice on Saturday morning, and then return for Sunday's race.
“It’s going to be tough for sure, but we have a plan that will help me get as much rest as possible," Logano said. "I’ll get a chance to rest and debrief and change on the plane rides between Pocono and Iowa each night."
Meanwhile, Busch is hoping for the story topic to settle down for a bit — or at least until his next week of double or triple duty.
"Only 1 (race this weekend) so everyone can stay sane for a week. #Chill," Busch tweeted to a fan earlier this week.
Before soft walls and seats situated in the middle of the car, stock cars actually looked like stock cars. They crashed like them too. In 1982, Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond got together in Turn 1 and all hell broke loose. Earnhardt would end up with a broken kneecap, while Richmond helped him down across the track. Wonder if Ryan Newman and David Gilliland would have done the same last week at Dover?
by Vito Pugliese
9. 1998: DW Nearly Wins No. 85
2 of 11
Despite three Winston Cup titles, 84 career wins and a Daytona 500, Darrell Waltrip is known to most fans as the guy yelling “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” every week and who’s last years behind the wheel as Jimmy Spencer’s teammate were less than impressive. Running his own team beginning in 1991, things took a downturn as technology and the sport outgrew his operation. Forced to sell his team, he ended up getting a call from former rival Dale Earnhardt in 1998 to sub for an injured Steve Park. It didn’t take long for him to get the new team up to speed, and ol’ DW nearly won Pocono in 1998, dueling with another Owensboro, Ky., native for the win. Check out his glassy-eyed interview at around the 10:00 minute mark. The Boogity schtick might be getting a little old, but you gotta love Darrell’s passion.
by Vito Pugliese
8. 2002: DEI's Wild Ride
3 of 11
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was in turmoil after the passing of its founder in 2001. In September of that year, Steve Park was critically injured at a Busch race in Darlington when his steering wheel came off under caution and he was t-boned by another driver catching up to the field. His first race back at Pocono didn’t last long — or go very well. Check out this harrowing moment between the two teammates and how close they come to knocking over the camera scaffolding. Dale Earnhardt Jr. running to his teammate’s aid paints one of the most indelible images of his career.
by Vito Pugliese
7. 2011: The Un-Rivalry
4 of 11
You might beat Kurt Busch on the track with a better car, but you’ll never beat him in a war of words or witty remarks … well, actually you can. Anywat, this back and forth between Busch and Jimmie Johnson at the end of the race at Pocono, and then the week following at Watkins Glen, was one of the highlights of the 2011 season. While Busch ultimately had a few more run-ins with the media later in the year (and the First Lady’s Secret Service Suburbans), it was yet another vignette for the wild world that is Planet Kurt.
by Vito Pugliese
6. 2003: Turn 1 = No Fun
5 of 11
Race cars never crash at the slow part of the track. They do so at the fastest, and inevitably into unprotected walls at obtuse angles — and oftentimes with full loads of fuel. Dale Jarrett found that out the hard way just after a pit stop in 2003, when his Taurus took off entering Turn 1 at nearly 200 mph with a full 22 gallon fuel cell. SAFER Barriers, new car designs, fuel cell improvements and eight gallons less fuel to burn have all contributed to help stop these sorts of accidents from getting out of hand.
by Vito Pugliese
5. 2000: Jeremy Mayfield is No. 1
6 of 11
Dale Earnhardt was famous for rattling cages … and for letting you know who was number one. Check out this last lap battle between Jeremy Mayfield and Earnhardt at Pocono in 2000. Not many were able to see this live as it is was a rain-delayed race run on Monday. Sad to see how quickly Mayfield fell in just a few short years and how it would be less than a year until we would lose Earnhardt.
by Vito Pugliese
4. 1991: Swervin' Irvan's Track Blacker
7 of 11
Ever wonder how Ernie Irvan earned the name Swervin’ Irvan? It was incidents during the 1991 season such as this one at Pocono, where he sends Hut Stricklin spinning in front of the field, and launches Richard Petty — who was having a pretty stout weekend — skyward. Save the Gen-6 brand identity spiel and check out those T-birds, Regals, Grand Prixs and Luminas looking every bit as street worthy as their counterparts today.
by Vito Pugliese
3. 2010: Kasey Gets Kahne'd
8 of 11
As Kurt Busch says, it’s a free for all on the last lap, and this incident on the final lap of the 2010 Pocono 500 was no exception. The action starts at 1:35, when Kasey Kahne is blocked and shoved to the grass by AJ Allmendinger — and after earlier showers, said grass was slick as ice. Kahne then spins back across the track and into the path of Mark Martin and Greg Biffle and is nearly ejected from the facility. Check out the impact at 3:15, as the No. 5 hits the No. 9 and how quickly he’s stopped. Say what you will about the CoT; it was a life saver.
by Vito Pugliese
2. 2003: Schrader's Crash & Burn
9 of 11
You may notice a common thread with many of these incidents, and it’s an unprotected Turn 1 wall with 200 mph corner entry speeds. There are two things a driver fears most in a race car: abrupt driver-side impact and fire. Ken Schrader experienced both at Pocono in 2003. His post wreck comments are about what you’d expect from Schrader; dead pan humor and his no-big-deal delivery.
by Vito Pugliese
1. 1992: Davey vs. Darrell
10 of 11
Those new NASCAR commercials touting rivalries would be well suited to revisit the rift between Darrell Waltrip and Davey Allison from 1991-92. Davey often got the worst end of it with broken ribs at Bristol, and then this horrific crash at Pocono in ’92. How bad was it? Allison’s crew chief Larry McReynolds recalled how he was scanning radio traffic to check on Davey’s condition, when he heard Mark Martin say, “they better just get a body bag for Davey….” Check out how close the No. 28 comes to breaching the guardrail and taking out the safety trucks, flinging parts for a quarter mile.
Picking the best Sprint Cup fantasy drivers at Pocono so you don't have to.
Denny Hamlin (ASP, Inc.)
To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned driver strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
NASCAR makes its first of two visits to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania Sunday for the Party in the Poconos 400. With a race name like that, Clint Bowyer would appear to be the early favorite, right? Not so fast, says the following stringent analysis. Jump in, make your picks and, hopefully, make us look like we know what we’re talking about.
A-List (Choose two, start one) Denny Hamlin
After blowing a tire at Dover and smacking the wall, Hamlin’s summer scramble to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup felt the pressure intensify just a bit more. Good thing he’s coming to Pocono, where in 14 starts he’s moved to second in Pocono wins among active drivers. Expect Hamlin to both start (average 5.6) and finish (average 10.7) up front Sunday — especially after the blemish on his Pocono resume handed down in July last year when he was caught in Jimmie Johnson’s late-race crash. In total, Hamlin has led right at one of every four laps that he’s run at Pocono. That’s stout.
Gordon has plenty of glowing career statistics that aren’t so reflective of how well his No. 24 has performed in recent seasons. Such is the break of his astounding period from roughly 1995 to 2002. But stats enhanced long ago muddying the current waters isn’t the case for Gordon at Pocono. Three of Gordon’s last nine wins on the Sprint Cup tour have come at Pocono, and four of his last five starts have resulted in top-10 finishes. The five-race rate bests a career top-10 average at the 2.5-mile triangle of 70 percent.
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth
Ryan Newman (ASP, Inc.)
B-List (Choose four, start two)
Newman won from the pole at Pocono in 2003 — one of fourteen race winners to accomplish that feat at Pocono. He’s not won since, but he hasn’t finished worse than 14th there since 2008. In his last sixteen Pocono starts, Newman is averaging a running position of 11.1. That’s better than A-List drivers like teammate Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. Stewart-Haas Racing also tested at Pocono this season.
This marks two straight weeks that we’ll recommend starting Martin. The craziest statistic for Mark at Pocono? He’s never won in 52 starts. But just behind that in the crazy department is the fact that Martin has never finished worse than 19th at Pocono in the 46 races he’s completed to the checkered flag. The other six races — in the span dating to 1982 — were DNFs split evenly between crashes and engine failures. Use a Martin start this weekend, and it just might pay off in the form of his 21st Pocono top-5 finish.
Logano likely zapped any looming doubts concerning his abilities at the Sprint Cup level with his win for Joe Gibbs Racing last season at Pocono. Now with Penske Racing, Logano is riding a wave of under-the-radar yet stellar races at Charlotte and Dover back to the site of his most recent win. He started from the pole last June — Logano has two Pocono poles in his last three races — and led 49 laps.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya’s best two seasons so far — 2009 and 2010 — included three Pocono top-10 finishes. The Columbian may be starting to find that same groove after a dismal start to 2013. Three of the last five races have produced top-10 finishes and he just missed wins at Richmond and Dover. Montoya has led laps in four of the last five Pocono races.
Also consider: Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch Greg Biffle
C-List (Choose two, start one)
Allmendinger returns from IndyCar life after a disappointing street course outing at Detroit with a strong desire to rinse the horrible taste of two first lap wrecks in two days from his mouth. Pocono’s road course-like traits, where he’ll drive James Finch’s No. 51, offers a good re-acclimation to Sprint Cup cars. In 10 Pocono starts, he has the best average running position of the C-Listers (21.4).
Mears surprised everyone who has to deal with the nightmare that is C-List selections by scoring a 16th at Dover last weekend. The good run followed six straight finishes of 23rd or worse for the Germain Racing team — or enough time for all of us to waste starts on Mears after he recorded consecutive finishes of 15th, 15th and 16th (Bristol, California and Martinsville) earlier this year. We’re betting — especially in the interest of preserving some Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starts at a track he’s only raced (and crashed!) in ARCA — that Mears may be starting another of those mini streaks that basically count as wins for a driver on the C-List.
Also consider: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan, David Gilliland, Danica Patrick
David Smith crunches the numbers for the Party in the Poconos 400
Dover race-winner Tony Stewart. (ASP, Inc.)
Dover International Speedway, a high-banked one-mile concrete oval, and Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile asphalt triangle with three wildly different corners, are two tracks that shouldn’t warrant much comparison.
Tony Stewart, who slumped through the first third of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and broke out with a victory last week at Dover, hopes that the contrary is true. The manner in how he won last Sunday emulates a lot of his past success at Pocono, including his two most recent outings on the “Tricky Triangle.” If Stewart can translate what worked at one place into working at another, all of a sudden his flash-in-the-pan win last weekend (it wasn’t undeserved, but he’d be hard-pressed to duplicate the feat) becomes the ignition of a summer hot streak.
How big of a shock was last week’s win? How did he do it? And do his numbers suggest a second consecutive victory?
41st Prior to his win at Dover, Stewart ranked 41st out of 47 drivers in Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at the mile track.
In the five races leading up to the weekend, Stewart didn’t earn a finish at Dover better than 20th. Suffice to say, his win was a bit of a shock. Considering he averaged a 15th-place running position for the afternoon, the victory wasn’t one that seemed a foregone conclusion for those at home watching the race. One of the reasons that he pulled off the victory was because he dialed back the clock and found an element of his repertoire that made a younger Tony a Stock Car superstar.
54.05% Stewart’s single-race pass efficiency at Dover was 54.05 percent, above his season-long efficiency of 48.44 percent.
The three-time champ’s minus-passing for the year (“minus” is anything below 50 percent) has hindered his plodding approach at success in most races this season. Passing is a large part of what makes Stewart a future Hall of Famer, and what allowed him to surge from 12th to first in the final 40 laps to secure his first win at Dover since 2000.
Stewart fans might take comfort in the fact that one of his best racetracks is next on the schedule.
5.500 Stewart ranks third in Cup Series PEER at Pocono with a 5.500 rating. He is the only driver that secured top-5 finishes in both races there last year.
2012 was the first season that saw Pocono’s new pavement put to use. Historically, Stewart doesn’t fare well on new surfaces or new tire combinations. Pocono was different. Similar to his run last week at Dover, Stewart improved on his average running position by 10 spots in the spring race (from 13th to third) and eight spots in the summer race (from 14th to fifth). Can he capitalize on superb passing and a plodding approach once again? If last year was any indication, it is possible. He earned a 59.38 percent pass efficiency on 256 encounters across both races there last season.
44.9% Jimmie Johnson led 44.9 percent of last summer’s race at Pocono, but ultimately finished 14th.
If it wasn’t for a hurried rain-imminent finish that prompted Johnson and Greg Biffle to collide and take them out of the running for the win, it’s likely that the No. 48 team would have kept cruising.
In spite of that result, Johnson ranks fourth in Pocono-specific PEER with a 5.000 rating. A driver that probably should have two top-5 finishes on the new surface could right his perceived wrong from Dover — he was penalized for jumping the final restart — this weekend.
3.4 In his win at Pocono last year, Joey Logano averaged a race-best 3.4-place running position.
Logano’s second career Cup Series win was no fluke and didn’t come as the result of a rainout. Then driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the youngster punished the field for 400 miles, showing a glimpse of what the future might hold for the racer once heralded as the sport’s top prospect.
It may have been a precursor to the uptick in production this season. Through 13 races in his new Penske Racing surroundings, Logano holds a 2.173 PEER, ranking higher than the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1.692), Greg Biffle (1.500) and Tony Stewart (1.442). Is the 23-year-old driver finally fulfilling his promise? If so, another shot at the Pocono crown might await.
0 for 2 Consummate frontrunner Kyle Busch failed to finish both Pocono races last year.
He blew an engine on lap 76 of the spring race and crashed out on lap 74 of the summer race. What does this mean for 2013? We don’t really know what to expect from Busch on the new Pocono surface.
Prior to the repave, Busch was finally coming into his own at Pocono. After averaging a 21.4-place finish in his first 10 starts there, he finished third or better in three out of four races in 2010 and 2011. With the script flipped via the new surface, and his sample size shallow in seat time, we don’t have enough to form a proper evaluation of how well the Cup Series’ top-ranked lap leader fares there.
Through the Gears: Four things we learned in the FedEx 400
Tony Stewart (ASP, Inc.)
A quick look at the leaderboard, 140 laps through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover gave you a clear indication of who would be winning this race … or so it seemed. Kyle Busch was first, Matt Kenseth was second and the rest of the field was on another planet. For a good hour that duo swapped the point while only a handful of drivers, between cautions, remained within 10 seconds of contact. Meanwhile, the trio of Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya remained far back, dealing with various handling and track position issues that made a push for victory seem like a virtual impossibility.
Fast forward to the final 20 laps, perhaps the time you woke up from a mid-race nap once Busch and Kenseth’s pairs ice skating routine lulled you to sleep. The top 3, heading down the stretch, were none other than Montoya, Johnson and Stewart, until the No. 48 got a black flag for jumping the final restart. Suddenly, a heavyweight battle was at hand between the remaining duo, there was an on-track pass for the lead in the final five laps and one of the deepest slumps in the garage — Stewart’s 30-race winless streak — was torn to shreds at a track where he typically runs like a tow truck driver. For those who missed those hours in between thinking Busch and Kenseth were going to run away with it, three letters came to mind when looking at the final results sheet: W, T and F. (You can figure this one out.)
That’s a good thing for the sport, even though the quality of racing from NASCAR’s Gen-6 chassis left something to be desired at Dover. For if the drivers can’t battle side-by-side for position to captivate an audience, at least you want to create an aura of unpredictability — that the guys you see running up front on lap 200 aren’t going to be the ones there at the finish. So far this season, NASCAR’s last five winners (Harvick twice, David Ragan, Matt Kenseth and Stewart) have led an average of 11 laps during their respective trips to Victory Lane; to me, that means mission accomplished.
Now, if only we could get this Gen-6 running right everywhere, a problem Mr. Stewart still faces as we go up through the gears after the Monster Mile.
FIRST GEAR: What does this win do for Stewart?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s clear even Stewart knows this surprise victory, stolen with what was probably a 10th-place car, won’t suddenly make his self-owned team a pack of title contenders. Indeed, on the same day he was sitting there celebrating, teammate Ryan Newman was in hiding, leaving without comment after blatantly dumping David Gilliland on-track, wrecking both drivers out of the event. Danica Patrick, by comparison, nearly took out the field twice within the first 25 laps before a series of unscheduled pit stops to fix handling problems that left her well off the pace and on a “test session” the rest of the day.
“Just making the Chase, that’s not good enough,” said the three-time champ, who put himself in “wild card” position with the victory. “I would rather miss the Chase and be in the process of building our program. I want to get this whole program turned around to where all three drivers are feeling like they have an opportunity to go out and have a good result.”
Smoke’s got the right attitude for his team, and — aside from a brief rebuke at a media member surrounding rumors about possible crew chief changes — left Sunday in a picture perfect frame of mind. Sunday’s race, in which crew chief Steve Addington used pit strategy to work Stewart up through the pack, could be a turning point for a duo who’s had their share of hard luck. The summertime is typically when Smoke catches fire anyways, with the lion’s share of his 48 career victories occurring after June 1. They’ve got Hendrick chassis and horsepower, (and know-how, as HMS has proved to have mastered the Gen-6 with Johnson atop the points) and the resources and quality of personnel are there to at least turn the No. 14 into a success story.
“I think, as an organization, we have a lot to be proud of,” Stewart continued. “It gives Ryan and Danica and I confidence as a driver (that a Stewart-Haas car won). It gives the three crew chiefs confidence that we are making forward progress.”
Keep in mind we’re also in early June. The last time Stewart won a title, in 2011, he stumbled through July and August, barely made the Chase field and looked like he was going to embarrass himself in the postseason. Instead, he left holding the hardware. It’s the mark of being one of the sport’s great drivers: you can never count him out.
SECOND GEAR: Johnson’s botched restart … and Knaus’ cryptic code.
The debate from Dover is whether Johnson jumped the final restart of the race. Check out the footage for yourself. It’s clear the No. 48, against NASCAR rules, made it to the finish line first, despite restarting second and then never gave the position back to Montoya. Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton claims it’s an open-and-shut case, a Grand Canyon-like divide from where the No. 48 team was on the issue.
“I was half-throttle for the whole frontstretch,” Johnson claimed. “And at some point, I gotta go. NASCAR has the judgment to decide if you jumped it or not. But I’m like, he’s (Montoya) is not even going. So I’m not sure if his car broke or if it was off power or he spun the tires … I don’t know. So I’m running half-throttle down the frontstretch waiting for him and he never comes. And then, we were called on it. So, a bummer way to lose a race.”
Johnson had some support from fellow drivers, coming up to him after the checker flag and expressing their displeasure. Chad Knaus also chimed in, via radio to make their position clear: “They (NASCAR) don’t want you to win this race. You know that.”
But the winner, Stewart (who in a sense is a de facto teammate of Johnson) had no issues with how Montoya brought the field down.
“I feel bad for Jimmie,” Stewart said. “He didn't deserve to be in a situation at the end, but at the same time, he knows what the rules are, and he knows that the leader has to cross the start/finish line first. Juan is smart enough to not let the second place guy take advantage of the restart, and that's what he did.”
Stewart said a possible solution to the controversy would be to widen the restart zone, allowing the leader more leeway in when they accelerate and lessening the advantage for second place so they don’t get out in front. But in this case, I think it’s a combination of Montoya’s savvy and a little cheerleading from Knaus that went to Johnson’s head. Check out this transmission I caught just before the final restart:
“You're a lot faster than Montoya, we’ve seen that ... he's just a pain in the ass to pass. Get out there and check the f**k out.”
Johnson, back to second after Montoya beat him off pit road, might have been a little overeager. And the Colombian, not used to being up front, might have spun the tires or even intentionally stayed slow once Johnson jumped knowing if the No. 48 never gave the position back, he’d be black-flagged and the race would play out in his favor. Either way, it’s no harm, no foul for the points leader; he’s got a 30-point edge, is solidly in the Chase and showed he had the car to beat for the return visit to Dover in the fall. I’d forgive, forget and chalk it up as a lesson learned.
THIRD GEAR: Toyota’s engine woes … How will the affect things going forward?
For the second time this season, Matt Kenseth was in position to win until the motor in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota went kaboom. Out before the race’s midpoint, after having dominated up front with Kyle Busch, he was soon joined in the garage by fellow top-5 runner Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing. It was a rough day for the Camry powerplants, which have blown up at a rate nearly six times that of rivals Ford or Chevrolet.
“I mean I feel like JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has three of the strongest teams in the garage,” Kenseth said. “It seems like we got the best cars out there — or equal to the best. But, you know you have to finish these things. Obviously, there’s been some issues in that department.”
The veteran’s done a great job at keeping his composure, the perfect role model for teammate Kyle Busch as they hurtle towards the Chase as top contenders. But the 11 percent failure rate for JGR this season has to be alarming. That’s roughly one out of every nine races, meaning in the postseason they’re guaranteed to give up 40 points to a blown engine. It’s a mulligan they can’t afford, especially against a Hendrick opponent known for ironclad equipment.
The problem Sunday was a valve-train issue, but at this point it’s irrelevant. What Toyota needs are solutions for these things, and they need them now.
Carl Edwards (ASP, Inc.)
FOURTH GEAR: Ford’s failing effort.
Ford Racing once dominated at Dover, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Only the Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano cracked the top 10; Roush Fenway’s trio was relegated to 13th, 14th and 15th. Adding insult to injury, Keselowski failed post-race inspection with a crew chief already on probation and a typically minor penalty (the car was too low) could result in additional penalties.
Overall, Ford has won just twice — at Phoenix in a track position race (Carl Edwards) and in the Russian Roulette restrictor plate atmosphere of Talladega (David Ragan). There is real concern in the RFR camp that Greg Biffle, who led the points for much last year’s regular season, could miss the Chase entirely. After Dover, Edwards spoke on what he believes is a systemic issue of missing speed inside the cars.
“When three different groups run the same speed and it is not fast enough, it means that we are doing a good job making the car as fast as it can go,” he said. “But it is up to all of us now to identify exactly where we are missing it. We will address it. We have time before the Chase starts. Now, it is just time to buckle down and work.”
Agreed on all counts.
The Monster Mile is not what it used to be, but it can still bite, as evidenced by Denny Hamlin’s hard hit down the stretch after blowing a tire. He was lucky not to re-injure his back, a reminder of the high risk/low reward scenario he’s currently in trying to squeeze into the Chase (the driver is now 74 points outside the top 20 with zero wins). … Jimmie Johnson’s rough ending left him 17th, his worst finish at the Monster Mile in nine years. But you can say that NASCAR’s calls evened out. An early debris caution in which the culprit was never shown kept Johnson, who started 24th, from going a lap down. … Dover’s crowd was upset over a weird stepped-up security procedure that kept some fans waiting up to an hour to get in. As race time edged closer, track officials seemed to “give up” and let people in much quicker. In the end, the crowd appeared weak, with less than 50 percent of the stands filled.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard Kurt Busch go bat guano over the radio, and we’re all a little worse off for it. Here’s some classic Kurt commentary after he gets hit with a pit road speeding violation. Ear muffs! NSFW.
by Vito Pugliese
11. 2012: Trouble Off of Two
2 of 13
A theme you’ll notice in many of these is early-race wrecks. As in, the first 20 laps. Interesting, considering that Dover is often cited as one of the most grueling and physically demanding tracks on the schedule. So much so, they shortened it from 500 laps to 400 in 1997.
by Vito Pugliese
10. 1997: Racing Before the "Bump 'N' Run
3 of 13
With eight laps to go, Mark Martin is tracking down Ricky Rudd, who was working on extending his streak of winning at least one race a year to 15. Rudd was also one of the few owner/drivers in the sport at this time. Dale Jarrett and teammate Ernie Irvan had dominated the event, leading a combined 406 of 500 laps. It would be the final 500-lap race at Dover, and one of the closest finishes ever at the track between two veterans, who show us how to race with respect.
by Vito Pugliese
9. 1996: Spencer Loses It. Literally.
4 of 13
NASCAR always asks the drivers to drop their window nets after an accident to alert the safety crews that they’re OK. They do not, however, ask that you bound from your wrecked rig, in your Extra-Medium purple firesuit, and go after Wally Dallenbach. With cars still speeding by, Jimmy Spencer comes unglued. Dallenbach, in turn, offers a crying towel and a different version of the incident. Of note, Spencer – finely tuned athlete that he has always been – had sponsors McDonald’s, Smokin’ Joes, and Winston over the course of a five-year period.
by Vito Pugliese
8. 1995: You Big Dummy!
5 of 13
Talladega and Daytona aren’t the only tracks to offer “The Big One.” Fred Sanford’s moniker for his chest-grabbers was joined by another of his famous lines by Mark Martin after the entire field was involved in a first-lap pile up in 1995. (You know he’s really mad when he gets all squeaky and goes up an octave.) The “Big Dummy” in question was Rusty Wallace, after Ricky Craven and John Andretti conspired to eliminate the competition one lap into it. The race would eventually be won by Kyle Petty – his eighth and final win in NASCAR competition.
by Vito Pugliese
7. 2004: "There Goes Everybody!"
6 of 13
Another race, another track blocker — this time with 44 laps to go, as cars were fighting to keep from going to go a lap down after a restart. With absolutely nowhere to go to escape the carnage, DW sums up the situation perfectly.
by Vito Pugliese
6. 2011: Video Game Wreck
7 of 13
The old adage in NASCAR is to aim for where the wreck starts because it should be gone by the time you get there. That doesn’t work when Joey Logano comes ricocheting off the wall at 150 mph into your path, as Clint Bowyer found out as he gets launched airborne and into the inside retaining wall. At least this track blocker occurs at the end of the race and more importantly, nobody was injured. Coincidence or irony: race sponsor would become Clint Bowyer’s Cup sponsor a year later.
by Vito Pugliese
5. 2008: Guess What? The Track’s Blocked. Again.
8 of 13
Sixteen laps into this one from 2008 and they’re at it already. Elliott Sadler comes down and into the path of David Gilliland – who had a few yards to lift – and the exit of Turn 2 with zero visibility is blocked once again. The result…yeah, you guessed it: carnage.
by Vito Pugliese
4. 2001: Junior's Patriotic Win
9 of 13
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 suspended everything in our country, with attention turned to more pressing matters in New York City, Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. The next race on the schedule would be Dover, held by Dover Air Force Base, which always provides a strong military presence on race weekends. What could be more American than Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning a race in the iconic Budweiser No. 8, doing donuts with American flag in hand?
by Vito Pugliese
3. 1984: Petty Wins No. 199
10 of 13
That storybook 200th win at Daytona in July with Ronald Reagan on hand would never have happened if not for Dover serving up No. 199 for The King. This was back when the race was 500 laps, rather than today’s fan- and driver-friendly 400. This was also back before any sort of meaningful driver cooling aids, hydration systems or reliable power steering – and Petty looks none the worse for wear. Check out the names of the guys he beat that day as well: Tim Richmond, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip; 12 titles among those guys, in the prime of their careers.
by Vito Pugliese
2. 2007: Tony Tangles with Kurt
11 of 13
What happens when you mix the two most volatile personalities in NASCAR in a claustrophobic one-mile concrete bowl after a weekend rainout? You get Tony Stewart clipping Kurt Busch, pushing him a half-mile down the frontstretch and Busch going Cole Trickle on pit lane. NASCAR parked Busch and fined 100 points for his actions (about 20 under today’s points system).
by Vito Pugliese
1. 2009: Logano Kept A-Rollin'
12 of 13
Joey Logano’s first year in the Cup Series was a rocky one. Coincidentally, the rolling stone gathered momentum as it tumbled down the concrete cliffs of Turn 3 at Dover. Logano was unharmed, but the top-heavy CoT showed one of its weaknesses: a tendency to get upside down and roll over on command like a yellow lab.
1. Crew chief returns to No. 2 as Brad Keselowski rides streak of poor finishes
Just a few hours before Brad Keselowski was slated to start the seventh race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway in his blue No. 2, all seemed to be fine. After a disappointing 23rd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway two races prior, Keselowski had rallied at Martinsville Speedway to score his fifth top 10 in the series first six races.
Then, as both he teammate Joey Logano's car rolled through pre-race inspection in Fort Worth, things started to fall apart. Both cars were required to make substantial changes in pre-race after NASCAR ruled a new rear suspension to be illegal. Keselowski rallied again to a Texas top 10 and a top 10 the next week at Kansas, but then bad luck started to bite.
Ultimately crew chief Paul Wolfe, his car chief and lead engineer were expelled from being at the track three total races (two points events) after an appeal for the Texas incident. Keselowski's finishes following the sixth-place Kansas run dropped considerably as he recorded results of 33rd, 15th, 32nd and 36th.
Wolfe and the rest of Penske's suspended crew make their triumphant — and sorely needed — return this weekend at Dover. Keselowski said after wrecking in last week's race at Charlotte that he hopes it's a good luck charm.
"I’m very proud of everyone that stepped up during the last three weeks," Keselowski said. "We’ve really improved our depth at Penske Racing, but now everyone can go back to their normal jobs. Hopefully that means we can get some of our mojo back.”
Keselowski, of course, is Dover's most recent winner thanks to Wolfe's fuel mileage gamble last fall. Otherwise, last year's champion has a best Dover finish of 12th in six Cup starts.
2. Kyle Busch thinking sweep of NASCAR triple-header weekend
All three of the top NASCAR national series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck — will be in action this weekend at Dover. That marks the first time all three series will compete in a three-day period at the same track since the season-openers for all at Daytona International Speedway in February.
It also marks the second opportunity of the season for Kyle Busch to aim for three race wins in one race weekend, as he'll pilot his self-owned No. 51 in Friday's truck series event, Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 54 on Saturday in the Nationwide 300-miler and JGR's No. 18 on Sunday in the Sprint Cup 400-miler.
Winning the triple certainly is not out of reach of Busch as he showed in 2010 at Dover. Then, a mechanical issue dropped him out late in the truck race after leading 174 of the scheduled 200 laps. He went on to win the next two races of the weekend. A few months later he finally became the first driver to pull off a three-race weekend sweep at NASCAR's other concrete track — Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch's odds to finally get the clean sweep of Dover stand to be pretty good. In the Nationwide Series, Busch has won six of the 10 events this season. And in Sprint Cup, Busch returns to the track where he led more than 300 laps in last fall's race before getting beat in a fuel mileage finish.
Jimmie Johnson (ASP, Inc.)
3. Johnson's Dover dominance spectacular even for his standards
There's not a whole lot that NASCAR's first driver to win five consecutive Sprint Cup titles hasn't accomplished or succeeded at in the sport. Knowing that, Jimmie Johnson's personal record at Dover is still nearing the edge of comprehension.
Johnson made his first Dover starts in 2002 and promptly swept both race weekends by leading 368 of 800 available laps. A harbinger of things to come, Johnson now leads the series among active drivers for wins on the one-mile oval and is tied with legends like Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for the most career wins there. Most remarkable is that Johnson tied those two NASCAR Hall of Famers in Dover wins in just his 21st Dover start.
The Dover dominance usurped a sterling record his teammate Jeff Gordon had began to accumulate, too. In 18 fewer Dover starts, Johnson has three more wins than Gordon and has led 29 more laps — despite completing 6,000 fewer circuits of the concrete oval.
And finally, there's this last statistical absurdity: not only has Johnson lead a lap in each of his last 10 Dover starts, but he has led fewer than 81 laps in those five years of twice-yearly events in just two of those starts. On average in that time period, Johnson is leading a merciless 176.4 laps per race.
4. Multi-car accidents just a blind corner away at Dover
Beyond the plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, Dover may hold the third most notorious ranking as a track that can produce large, multi-car incidents.
Look no farther than last year's Dover spring race when on Lap 10, 12 cars stacked up on the backstretch. The incident started when Tony Stewart spun Landon Cassill exiting Turn 2 and the two cars split sideways. With the track blocked, drivers behind them tried to slow down and cut low at the exact worse place at Dover to try such a move.
The exit of Turn 2 to the backstretch is similar to hitting a bump on a country road in that it shoots the car up out of the corner and shifts the weight load off the rear tires. The result is controllable right up until a driver has to make an evasive move. Then, cars tend to spin — one after another — as they try to avoid the trouble at the track that produces blind corner entries and exits thanks to its low-elevation corner, high-elevation straightaway design.
Crashes as large as the 2012 incident are mostly rare at Dover, but still the overall frequency of incidents with numerous cars compared to other tracks seems to be higher at the one-mile oval. Consider: since 2003, eight different caution flags at Dover were the result of crashes that included a whopping total of 72 cars.
5. Stewart-Haas Racing tested at Dover
The struggles of Stewart-Haas Racing have been no secret this year.
Sure, expectations for the newest SHR driver in Danica Patrick haven't been sky high. But for Ryan Newman — in a contract year — and three-time series champion Tony Stewart the results have been unacceptable. The largest issue for the team hasn't been poor strategy or unfortunate luck, but rather an overall lack of handling in each driver's Chevrolet.
That tide may be swinging the other direction after the team scored a pair of top 10s at the Coca-Cola 600 and Stewart finally found a setup in the Gen-6 that delivered his desired handling characteristics.
“We finally got some stability in the car. One change there at the end of the race just made a huge, huge difference,” said Stewart after Charlotte.
SHR also heads to Dover with a bit of practice in the Gen-6 car already on the books. The three-car team used one of its testing day allotments at Dover a few weeks ago. Newman felt good about the information learned from the session, but admitted it put the team in a wrong frame of mind for the All-Star Race.
"We tested up there, all of Stewart-Haas tested up there, and feel like we made some improvements on our cars for sure, and we actually tried to do some of those things at Charlotte for the All-Star Race and just couldn't get it to click in practice," Newman said.
But fortunately, Newman noted, if the team can find the right stability early in the Dover weekend, the race should go well.
"If you usually get a car right at Dover you can keep it right the entire day," he said.
Picking the best fantasy drivers at Dover so you don't have to.
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first visit to the other DIS — Dover International Speedway — this weekend for 400 miles around, as one driver calls it, “a one-mile roller coaster.” Delaware’s standard oval features corners lower than the banked straightaways, giving drivers the sensation that they “drop” into the turn and “climb” back up to the straights.
Choosing a fantasy lineup for Dover can sometimes be just as random as a card shuffle at the track’s backstretch casino thanks to the tight confines of the track occasionally producing massive multi-car accidents that wipe out a slew of contenders in one stroke. Still, we’ll take a stab.
Note: This fantasy preview is a bit different this week as we try a new format. Instead of ranking every driver at Dover, we’ll make it easier on you by telling you which drivers to call up and be ready to start for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
A-List Drivers (choose two, start one)
With consideration for many players conserving starts for Johnson until later in the season when he inevitably gets hot, Dover is almost a no-brainer time to have Johnson in your lineup for race day. Consider this: in the last 16 Dover races going back eight seasons, Johnson is averaging 121 laps led per race.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver has averaged a finish of sixth in that period (his average career finish in all races is 11th) and has turned the fastest lap 878 times, which is good for nearly 400 more than the second-most fastest laps in that period by Carl Edwards. Oh, one other thing: Johnson’s seven career wins at Dover are three more than any active driver. Beyond the wins, he has four more top-5 finishes and nine more top-10 finishes.
Sure, you could bet he’ll have an off weekend at a track he dominates in the name of conserving the No. 48’s start until the fall. But is that really wise a week after Johnson wrecked by himself at Charlotte? If anyone is coming back with a vengeance, it’s Mr. Five Time.
So you’ve used Johnson a few too many times to your liking this early in the year and you’re looking for a suitable replacement? If you haven’t overused Matt Kenseth to this point (I hope you’ve used Matt Kenseth plenty at this point), he’s your guy. But one driver who likely has plenty of starts remaining on your fantasy roster is Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer is riding a Dover streak of four straight races where he’s finished in the top 10 — moderately impressive considering the span included races with both Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer has led just 30 laps in those four starts, but those finishes and overall performances contributed to make him the third-best Dover driver among A-Listers during the last eight seasons.
Other picks: Matt Kenseth (Average running position of eighth; 18 top 10s, 2 wins) Jeff Gordon (Four career wins; 73 percent of laps in top 15 during last eight races)
B-List Drivers (choose four, start two)
Would you believe Carl Edwards was one spot away from making it four straight top-10 finishes last week? Quietly and steadily, Edwards and Roush-Fenway Racing seem to be making inroads on catching the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Dover should continue the recent positive trend.
Edwards crashed in the spring Dover race a year ago and wound up 26th, marking his first finish of worse than 11th at the concrete oval since 2006. He was one win in that period and his fifth-place run last fall marked his eighth career top 5 at Dover. Only Johnson and Kenseth have a better Dover driver rating than Edwards in the last 16 Dover races.
Thanks to his limited schedule, you’ll probably not run through all nine available starts for Mark Martin this season. That makes him an easy choice at Dover.
Last year, Martin had two top-15 finishes at the Monster Mile — including a third-place run in the fall that tied for his second-best finish of the 2012 season. Beyond that, Martin has been good at Dover both recently and throughout his career. In the last eight seasons, he has an average finish of 11th and has spent more than three-fourths of his laps in the top 15. He’s tied with Jeff Gordon for the second-most Dover wins among active drivers (4) and he hasn’t finished worse than 23rd there since 2002.
Last year Dover — land of local seafood restaurants featuring fresh catches from the nearby Atlantic Ocean — proved to be the Sea of Heartbreak (hat tip, Don Gibson!) for Kyle Busch. The No. 18 blew an engine in the spring race just past halfway as Joe Gibbs Racing cars are wont to do. Busch stormed back in the fall in his missed-Chase rage to lead 302 laps before a fuel mileage finish dropped him to 14th. It was a leave-the-track-without-comment kind of day for Kyle.
Even with those issues — and two other blown engines at Dover in his career — Busch’s numbers there make him a good bet Sunday. In his last 16 Dover starts, Busch has led the third-most laps of any active driver.
Biffle is another driver you’ve likely used sparingly this year, waiting for RFR to finally find fourth gear amid a mostly middling start. Remember, at his point one year ago Biffle held a 10-point lead in the series standings. Now, he’s 13th and 121 points back.
Dover has long been good to the Biff with a recent average finish of 9.6 and an average running position of 10th. His percentage of fastest in-race laps in that 16-race period is the highest among B-Listers. Though he has struggled some recently at the track where he’s won twice, Biffle is due to jumpstart his season after three finishes of 31st or worse in his last four races. That team is too good to continue a poor streak like that.
Other picks: Ryan Newman (Three career Dover wins; second-best track for career average finish) Kurt Busch (Surging team returns to site of Kurt’s last win) Martin Truex Jr. (Site of lone career race win in 2007; two top 10s in 2012)
C-List (Choose two, start one)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Undoubtedly, you’ve used Stenhouse plenty this season thanks to the lack of other consistent, quality talent in the C-List. He’s still the best pick for Dover among the group — and he’s likely better than almost half of the B-Listers. Stenhouse finished 12th in his lone Sprint Cup start at Dover, five spots ahead of his 17th-place start.
At a place like Dover, Smith seems to be as good a bet as any in the C-List. He drives for James Finch’s team for the seventh time this year Sunday following his 17th-place run last weekend at Charlotte. No, that car hasn’t had noteworthy speed and, no, a top 20 isn’t guaranteed. But Smith has yet to come home worse than 25th in that car this season. Better yet, he’s finished nine of his 10 career Dover races.
Other picks: David Reutimann (Average Dover finish is 20th) David Ragan (Average Dover finish is 24th)
David Smith crunches the numbers for the FedEx 400
Last year at Dover, Jimmie Johnson proved a driver will do anything for the sponsor. (ASP, Inc.)
“The Monster Mile” isn’t just a title for the purposes of ticket sales. It is a fine summation of a truly unique racetrack that causes fits for the majority of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster twice a year.
Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, high-banked attention grabber of a facility with fast closing speeds and diminished reaction time. It also offers some of the greatest lore in modern day NASCAR.
Jimmie Johnson is supremely dominant; so dominant, in fact, that it’s said he can’t be beaten, unless fuel mileage becomes a factor. Denny Hamlin is admittedly awful, so bad that he had to consult a sports psychologist prior to last fall’s race just so that he wouldn’t be mentally defeated before ever making the trip to Delaware.
The numbers from recent seasons seemingly back the mythology. For Hamlin, it is a troublesome track. For Johnson and others, it’s a tremendous coliseum.
5.958 Jimmie Johnson’s 5.958 PEER at Dover is the best in the Cup Series.
With four wins in the last eight races, Johnson is arguably better at Dover than any driver at any other track — Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen offers a valid opposition — and easily ranks as the series’ most productive racer. This stems not only from winning, but winning with gusto. His affinity for pacing the field on the Monster Mile is of legendary proportions.
65.6% In his four victories at Dover during the CoT era, Johnson had an average laps led percentage of 65.6.
This means Johnson doesn’t just win. He dominates. That’s sort of his general modus operandi when it comes to Dover, considering he has led 52.5 percent of the total laps there dating back to the 2009 spring race. In that time frame he averaged a running position of third place or better. Dover delivers a hectic day to most drivers, so it figures that Johnson has dwindled his competition down to about one or two other drivers in races there the last few years. This is also evident in his passing numbers.
78 Johnson converted 39 pass encounters out of a comparatively low two-race total of 78 into green-flag passes during the 2012 races at Dover.
That 50 percent passing efficiency on a low number of encounters is a byproduct of running in the front of the field all day. That he was able to avoid “for-position” traffic for the majority of the races at Dover is fairly advantageous for a team looking to take care of its car and come away with a victory. Aside from lapped traffic, Johnson didn’t often find himself in harm’s way that much last season.
75.5% Kyle Busch did his best Johnson impression at Dover in last fall’s race, leading 75.5 percent of the race’s total laps. He did not win.
Instead, a rare fuel mileage-predicated ending awarded the win to Brad Keselowski, but Busch demonstrated that he was perfectly able to do “Kyle Busch things” on the dicey one-mile oval. Taking into account how dominant he has been in 2013, Busch is a win threat this weekend despite his sixth-best Dover-specific production rating (3.042).
4.833 Tied for second in Dover PEER with a 4.833 rating is Matt Kenseth, who might serve as a potential spoiler for this weekend’s event.
It takes me aback that there are those that are surprised by Kenseth’s success behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing car early this season. Kenseth has always been a savvy driver from track to track, but now he is piloting equipment that offers a bigger “home run” threat, so to speak, compared to his former Roush Fenway Racing digs. It appears that JGR is benefiting from the Gen-6 more than a lot of the other heavyweight teams in the sport, so the always-reliable Kenseth is in a plum position to score wins at tracks on which he has always been a skilled producer. Dover is one such track.
Dover: Not Denny Hamlin's cup of concrete. (ASP, Inc.)
28.09% Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team currently have a 28.09 percent probability of making the Chase, which is the 17th best chance in the series.
Making the Chase conventionally via the top 10 automatic spots is likely not an option for Hamlin, who missed four races due to injury. He is still on track to finish inside the top 20, which is one of the two prerequisites for wild card accumulation (the other is win total). Dover provides a significant hurdle for Hamlin, who is historically rotten there (his career average finish is 19.6) with a replacement-level 0.417 PEER that ranks 26th out of 47 drivers. A good finish will see his probability of cracking the top 20 skyrocket (he is currently 24th). A win, albeit a shock, could be all he needs to put himself in the Chase.