You settle down to watch a movie, to follow the storyline, even expecting what the outcome might be. Matt Kenseth was to win at Dover, Jimmie Johnson was going to challenge him for the victory, Tony Stewart would have another dud day, and the boy sees dead people. Sure, he sees ghosts, but I am sure the nice child psychologist will help him through it. The next thing you know, we discover that the shrink himself is actually dead, Kenseth blows up, Johnson gets black flagged for jumping the late restart, and Tony Stewart wins the damn thing. You got to love those surprise endings.
For the longest time, Stewart has just hanging on to the final spot on the lead lap. He slowly moved up to 15th, hell, he was in contention for a Top Ten near the end thanks to a final two-tire stop. Then Juan Pablo Montoya stuttered his start, Johnson took off a tad too early, got the black flag, allowing Stewart a run that saw him get by the Columbian with three laps to go. We knew where Smoke came from, he came from way back there and somehow got to the front. Just like that he became the first driver outside the Top Ten, but inside the Top Twenty, to claim a win. He might be 16th in the standings, but he is first for a wild card spot with a baker’s dozen number of races left before the Chase begins.
Carl Edwards (14th) and Johnson were so-so when the day concluded. Fan fav Dale Earnhardt Jr was visible most of the day, never was a race contender, yet managed to finish 10th. Among those hanging out with the bottom feeders included the great day turned bad for Jamie McMurray (33rd), Denny Hamlin (34th – crash), Ryan Newman (36th – crash), Martin Truex Jr (38th – engine), and Kenseth (40th)).
Great end of the day for the team owner, but not so good for the soon to be departed Newman. After a Top Five at Daytona, the Rocketman crashed at Phoenix, blew an engine at Las Vegas, and the wreck at Talladega did not help matters. Still, he was heating up in recent weeks, but got too overheated in trying to give David Gilliland the chrome horn. He blew it once, blew it twice, then simply blew it as his third attempt sent Gilliland into the wall and back in front of Newman. So much for that plan, so much for those two cars. Newman is buried in a 20th place tie with Jeff Burton in the standings.
I mentioned the bottom feeders, those who just can not average 20 points, a 24th place finish, each and every week. Bobby Labonte is among them, but as the 1999 Cup champ we can give the guy some slack. Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick is another, but as she fills out a bikini even better than Jeff Gordon, she gets one, too. However, after falling three laps down early to sit 41st in a real ill handling car, she soldiered on to wind up four laps back, but in 24th. She managed to save something from nothing, so chalk this one up as a moral victory.
As for the best of the bottom feeders, 18 in the field average less than 20 points per race run. Casey Mears was the best of that bunch at 16th, but that Germain Racing team is just a single point of growing out of the category. Former champ Labonte was 21st and Talladega winner David Ragan was 22nd, with Patrick behind them. If we are going to recognize people who did better than what was expected of them, Josh Wise was 25th and Joe Nemechek finished 31st. At least those boys tried with what they had.
Good thing Kenseth blew up when he did on lap 159 of the 400 lap event. The trio of Scott Riggs (average finish of 42.2), Mike Bliss (42.1), and Michael McDowell (37.7) still had to wait a hundred laps to get their fourth to play bridge. It can be a long day when you are parked in the garage in your pretty little firesuit while the others are out there busy racing.
Brad Keselowski was a happy man. Was. He got his crew chief back, his car chief back, his engineer back, and even the competition director for Roger Penske was back. They all went on vacation due to violations at Texas. The defending Cup champ finished fifth on Sunday, then the car failed post-race inspection as the front end of their car proved too low. No, Brad will not be surrounded by dead people, but depending on NASCAR justice his crew chief could once again be a ghost. At least, thanks to Twitter, he won’t need a medium to communicate his thoughts on the matter.
Rating Dover – 8.5/10 – Despite the supposed predictability of the race, the action was pleasing to watch. There was not lots of movement in the running order until near the end, but there were enough surprises to keep one tuned in.
Long Pond, Pennsylvania is where they will be heading for this Sunday as they race at Pocono. Keselowski won there in the fall of 2011, but Jeff Gordon has won two of the past four including the one last August. Sitting just ten points behind the tenth place Paul Menard, Gordon does not have to win this weekend, but I am sure he would not complain if he did. Enjoy the week.