Surprising and Not Surprising: AAA 400 at Dover
by Michael Finley On Sun, May. 15, 2016
The Sprint Cup Series race at the “Monster Mile” ended with what you’d expect from a track with that nickname- a bunch of torn up race cars, a thrilling race, and a great finish. Here was what was surprising and not surprising from the 47th Annual AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway.
With all of the talk this season about the young generation, Matt Kenseth has kind of seemed lost in the shuffle. After losing a heartbreaker in the Daytona 500 and struggling with mechanical failures/accidents most of the season, some feel the 44-year-old is “washed up.” There have even been questions lobbed at the 2003 Sprint Cup champion on retirement from the series the past couple of months.
On Sunday, Kenseth showed he still had it by staying ahead of an incredible duel for second between Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott with 20 laps remaining, then hanging on by holding off Larson for the final 10 laps.
It was Kenseth’s 37th career Sprint Cup victory and his third at Dover. As it was his first win of the season, Kenseth has significantly helped his chances of competing in the Chase come September.
“It all worked out for us, kind of the opposite as I feel like it’s been going the last couple months,” Kenseth said in the post-race press conference. “We’ve had really fast racecars. We’ve been in position to win a lot. This wasn’t our fastest car by any means. But we were able to be there at the end of the race and pull it off.”
Larson and Elliott, both hailed as future superstars, had a great battle for second place in the last 40 laps before Larson was able to clear Elliott for the final time with just 10 laps to go. With both probably being around the sport for many years to come, it probably won’t be the last battle between them that we will see.
“It was fun racing with (Chase). We’ve had a lot of good battles through the XFINITY Series and even K&N,” Larson said. “Hopefully, we’re battling up front for many years to come.”
“Had a lot of fun racing with those guys at the end there,” Elliott said. “Like I say, hate to not get the job done and be so close, but we’ll keep digging at it and try to get a little better.”
One has to wonder, though, if Larson had been able to get to Kenseth in the last few laps, would he have spun him for the win?
“I respect Matt Kenseth a lot,” Said Larson, who was all of 11-years-old when Kenseth won his only Sprint Cup Series championship. “He’s definitely, in my eyes, the cleanest racer out there. He always races me with respect. I try to do the same to him.”
A huge 18 car wreck occurred on lap 355 during a restart. Jimmie Johnson, who had just led his 3,000th lap at the Monster Mile, was restarting in the lead on the outside line when a stuck transmission jammed up much of his line.
“I got a great start in second gear,” Johnson said. “As I went to put it in third (gear) and came across the shifting gate it never went into third. It actually got locked in the neutral area of the transmission. I had plenty of time. Martin (Truex Jr.) was plenty patient with me and I was trying to get third and I couldn’t. I tried for fourth and third and fourth and I finally got hit. Just a freak deal with something with the transmission. I’ve never had that happen to me in my career.”
Johnson wasn’t the only big-name collected in the accident. Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin all got collected in the multi-car melee. It set up the stage for the finish, as many cars that did not finish as a result of the accident were able to go out and continue laps down and off the pace. The leaders had to find ways around them in the final 20 or so laps.
It was expected that without Adam Stevens this week the No. 18 Toyota would struggle a bit on the track, and that was the case. The race started off with driver Kyle Busch fading away from his third place starting position and he was never able to recover from this.
Busch struggled in the 11th-15th range for much of the day before getting caught up in the 18 car wreck with just 56 laps remaining in the race. Busch ended the day in the garage at 30th as a result.
“We either missed something today or we had something break – just something wasn’t right,” Busch said post-race. “Got really, really, really evil there about lap 230 or lap 250, something like that and I was having a real hard time holding onto it and even making laps. Just trying to check everything out and see if there was anything that was broke, but obviously, now there’s a lot of things broke and hard to decipher what we can figure out and learn about what we might have had happen there today.”
Tony Stewart has had good results for a driver who had major back surgery only a few months ago. But his three-race streak of top 20 finishes ended on Sunday when a strange thing happened on lap 342.
“Something broke on the rear-end; on the rear-end side of it, not the chassis side,” The three-time Sprint Cup champion said. “So, when it did that, somehow it punctured the oil tank. So that’s the oil you smell. You can see coming down pit road just going back and forth, left and right. We just broke a track bar.
“The track bar broke and the back of the car flops back and forth. I don’t know what more there is to say about that. It just broke. I mean there wasn’t any…we had been fighting, the car was acting weird for the last 80 to 100 laps. I’m sure it was already starting to break and it finally just broke the rest of the way.”
Once again, Martin Truex Jr. was so close to another Sprint Cup victory. But also once again, Lady Luck was not on his side.
Truex led 47 laps before getting caught up in the 18 car pile-up. Truex finished ninth but couldn’t compete for the victory with the damage to his car.
At the beginning of the race we were a fifth, sixth-place car and just kept working on it, kept working on it and when we needed to be the best car, I think we were,” Truex said, after leading with as little as 52 laps remaining. “Just one of those deals, wrong place, wrong time. Frustrating, but we got a top-10 out of it so not too bad. The guys on pit road did a great job fixing it. Just hate that it happened. I wanted to be fourth on that restart, but I didn’t want to be fourth that bad. I should have been third so maybe I should have not let the 19 beat us off pit road. I don’t know how you can see those things coming. All in all good day, just bad finish.”
It’s the third time this season the driver of the No. 78 Toyota led 30 or more laps and couldn’t win the race. In his career statistics, the New Jersey driver has led an absolutely staggering 958 laps per Sprint Cup victory in his career, the most of any driver who holds multiple wins in history by a long shot.