Surprising and Not Surprising: Dover AAA 400By Mary Jo Buchanan
Surprising: While Chevrolet has been dominant at the Monster Mile in the past, particularly with Jimmie Johnson behind the wheel, and Toyota strong in qualifying this race with Denny Hamlin on the pole, it was surprising that neither manufacturer ended up in Victory Lane.
Instead the lone representative of the Dodge brand took the checkered flag, waved the American flag, and even did a stellar burnout in spite of being almost out of fuel.
“Dodge has really performed with us,” Roger Penske, the ‘captain’ of the victorious No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Penske team, said. “They committed to us three or four years ago as we became the only team.”
“The greatest thing we could do would be to bring a championship to Dodge this year,” Penske continued. “At the moment, we represent them.”
“They’re partners,” Penske said. “We’re going to do our best.”
Penske’s driver Brad Keselowski not only score the win for Dodge, but also got his first win at the Monster Mile. Even more important, Keselowski grabbed the points lead in the Chase standings and is now five points ahead of Jimmie Johnson.
Not Surprising: One driver that had to have a good run in order to even stay with spitting distance of the Chase contenders pulled it off and tamed the monster for a second place finish.
“I thought it was a solid effort,” Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, said. “Our car was pretty good right from the start.”
“It was a great finish to come home second,” Gordon continued. “This is nice to follow up what we had last week.”
“We’re running good,” Gordon said. “We got seven more weeks to get it done.”
Surprising: For a track known as the ‘Monster Mile’, it was surprising that the monster was in the fuel tank and not on the race track itself.
There were just five cautions total in the race, most for debris, and the final laps were nail biters to see who would make it on fuel rather than who would wreck or have other on-track incidents.
Even five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, behind the wheel of the No. 48 Lowes/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, had to back it down because of his fear of running out of Sunoco, finishing fourth instead of first just to be sure about that pesky fuel mileage.
“Well, for starters, we’re not very good at fuel mileage races,” Johnson said. “So, when I heard that, I’m like, man, we’re in big trouble.”
“And Chad asked me to start saving fuel,” Johnson continued. “It’s tough; it really is.”
“I wished we could have raced for it,” Johnson said. “But it is what it is.”
“You’ve got to be good on all fronts and we did a decent job today.”
Not Surprising: They say that races can be won or lost in the pits and that proved true for many drivers trapped a lap down after a cycle of pit stops gone awry with a caution. But for one Chase contender, Kasey Kahne, his entire race was impacted by what happened on pit road.
“We don’t know why I had to pit the first time, but the car just started shaking really bad,” the driver of the No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet, said. “Right before it did that, we were fast, we finally got our laps back that we lost early and we were coming.”
Then the No. 5 team made a critical mistake on the stop with a lug nut and Kahne again had to visit pit road, losing track position and precious time.
“We were sitting really good because we had just pitted and topped off on fuel,” Kahne said. “It’s too bad whatever it was.”
“We’ll figure it out and hopefully we don’t have it happen again.”
Kahne finished the race in 15th and fell to sixth position in the point standings, 32 points behind the leader.
Surprising: Although the non-Chase Fords fared surprisingly well, with Carl Edwards finishing fifth in his No. 99 Fastenal Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in his new Ford Cup ride finishing 12th, the Chase Fords of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth had surprisingly bad days at the Monster Mile.
In fact, Biffle and Kenseth had such surprisingly bad days, finishing 16th and 35th respectively, that they both fell to the basement in the Chase point standings, facing an incredibly uphill battle to get back into the championship hunt.
“It’s tough,” Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Scotch-Brite Ford Fusion said, after contending with a loose wheel and having a meltdown of epic proportions on his scanner. “We were in great position, but that really kind of takes us out of the title hunt.”
“We really needed to finish in the top three here to be a factor, but now we’ll just work on being in the top 10.”
“In two of three Chase races, something either fell off or broke, so obviously that’s not good,” Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 EcoBoost Ford Fusion, said. “This is probably the worst we’ve run here for as long as I can remember.”
“From the first lap on the track to the last lap on the track, we were pretty much junk.”
Not Surprising: There is no doubt that Kyle Busch, who had yet another great race going, including leading the most laps until fuel mileage concerns forced him to pit road at the race end, has become the modern day racing equivalent of the biblical character Job.
The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota just cannot seem to catch a break, whether it is fuel mileage, engine failure or other strange on-track incidents. And, just like Job, Busch has done his share of vociferously and vehemently questioning the racing gods, as well as his team and manufacturer.
“It’s frustrating,” Dave Rogers, Busch’s crew chief said. “I knew if it came down to a fuel mileage race that we were going to be in trouble.”
“There was no doubt that we had the fastest car,” Rogers continued. “We played our best cards and we came up short.”
Surprising: Denny Hamlin, a physical force behind the wheel at any track, stepped up his mental game for a surprisingly good finish at the Monster Mile. The driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Office Toyota Camry and pole sitter, finished top-ten, one of his best results at a track that admittedly is not his favorite.
“Top-10 day on a race track like this and to battle for the win all day – I’m not going to complain,” Hamlin said. “We ran our ass off today.”
“Like I said, there’s nothing we can’t handle on the race track,” Hamlin continued. “I think our performance today is a testament to where we’re heading.”
Not Surprising: Veteran Mark Martin, the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of the Cup Series, just keeps getting it done on the race track whenever he is behind the wheel of the No. 55 Aaron’s 2000th Store, Bronx, NY Toyota. Martin finished 3rd, announcing that, although not part of the Chase, he is still a contender.
“I don’t know if everybody really noticed or not, but we had a rocket ship, super fast car,” Martin said in the media center after the race. “We were passing cars left and right.”
“I have a fantastic race team,” Martin continued. “We were just having a blast.”
Surprising: In contrast to veteran Martin, three-time and reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart and his race team had a surprisingly challenging day. Smoke finished 20th in his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet and teammate Ryan Newman, in the No. 39 US Army Chevrolet, finished right behind him in 21st.
“We just got caught behind the eight-ball there,” Stewart said. “We got a lap down and the next run we pitted, came back out and the No. 36 crashes.”
“It was just a domino effect,” Smoke continued. “As soon as we’d pit, the caution would come out again.”
Not Surprising: In addition to the stellar run of Mark Martin, the other two Michael Waltrip Racing cars, both in Chase contention, had decent, top-10 finishes at the Monster Mile. Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth and teammate Clint Bowyer finished ninth.
“Well, it wasn’t pretty at the beginning,” Truex Jr., driving the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, said. “But it was pretty damn pretty at the end.”
“It’s great a great finish for where we started,” Truex continued. “What a crazy day.”
“When you have days like that, you just have to keep fighting and we kept fighting and came out with a good results.”
Both Truex and Bowyer advanced two positions a piece in the point standings. Martin Truex Jr. is now eighth in points, 42 behind the leader, and Clint Bowyer is now fourth in points, 25 behind leader Keselowski.
Surprising: One racer, making her first start at the Monster Mile, expressed surprising comfort with the concept of a fuel mileage racing, in spite of finishing 38th in her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
“I’m so used to the concept of fuel mileage racing that I don’t have any problem with it,” Patrick said. “Even at the start of the run I’m saving fuel already and they told me not to.”
“I was a little slow to start,” Patrick continued. “But we worked our way through it and made it better most every stop.”
“That is a good starting place for next year when we get here and that is the point of these races.”
Not Surprising: While pronouncing the finish ‘decent’, it was not surprising that the crew chief for NASCAR’s most popular driver was not particularly thrilled with the 11th place finish of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mount Dew Chevrolet.
“We had a good car and we are fine with what we had,” Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., said. “To come here and not be good in practice and have a good car and feel like we could run in the top-five – that’s heading in the right direction.”
“We just need a little luck on our side.”