Gambling on a Pair
Kenseth's two tires win at Dover
By: Matt Taliaferro | 5/15/11, 11:00 PM EDT
Photo by ASP, Inc.
by Matt Taliaferro
The top two drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings were the two drivers to beat in the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson combined to lead 324 of the first 364 laps and were poised for a late-race showdown with late-comer Clint Bowyer.
However, a late-race caution punctuated what was an otherwise staid event and, like last weekend’s Southern 500, pit strategy turned the field — and the results — upside down.
Bowyer, Edwards and Johnson took the time to take four fresh tires during the caution, while Mark Martin stayed out to inherit the lead. Meanwhile, a slew of teams elected to put on only two tires, including the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth, who led the pack off pit road.
And just as the Southern 500 proved that track position trumped fresh Goodyears, the FedEx 400 solidified it, as Martin and Kenseth sprinted away, while those who dominated the race remained mired in heavy traffic. By the time Kenseth slipped under Martin, only 31 laps remained on the fast, one-mile oval, and he ran away uncontested for a 2.122-second victory, his second career win at Dover.
“I know we were both thinking about the same thing,” Kenseth said of he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig’s two-tire strategy. “In the back of my head, I was thinking, ‘Man, I should almost just drive by pit road and start in the front, see what happens.’ But I saw the guys in front of me. I looked at everybody in the mirror, I saw everybody on the apron, I thought it wasn't going to be good for me if I did that and restarted and finished about 15th.
“We came down pit road. As I slid into the stall, I said, ‘Jimmy, are you sure you don't want to try two?’ He didn't even hesitate. He's like, ‘Two tires, two tires,’ in plenty of time before the guys took off. It was not problem. It went smooth, almost like we planned it.”
Martin held off Marcos Ambrose for second, while Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 5.
“Matt had two tires there and had a little advantage on us for a little bit,” Martin said of the final 40 laps. “Then after a little bit, we seemed to start breaking even. I know he had a little bit left, but I had enough speed to be right there without tires. All the guys behind me were dropping off.
“You know, we've had racecars this good this year. Every time we turn around, something goes against us. It was nice to have things go our way.”
As for the race’s three strongest cars, Bowyer, who ran on point for the 29 laps prior to the final caution, finished sixth, while Edwards was seventh. Johnson, who led a race-high 207 laps, settled for a ninth-place showing.
“I guess in our minds we didn't think that would take place — so many guys taking two," Johnson said. “I knew, basically from the numbers we were in trouble when we left pit road and there were so many guys in front of us.
“We led a lot of laps (more than half the race). But unfortunately not the one at the end that counted.”
Edwards holds a 24-point lead over Johnson in the standings. Kenseth’s second win of the season vaults him to sixth in the standings and acts as insurance in case he should slip outside of the top 10, as the final two Chase spots will be filled by the drivers with the most victories.
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