Surprising and Not Surprising: FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism SpeaksBy Mary Jo Buchanan
With the temperatures soaring and the ‘monster’ on the prowl, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 44th annual FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.
Surprising: With even the drivers predicting that the ‘usual suspects’ would run well at Dover, there was a most surprising and surprised driver in Victory Lane instead.
“If somebody would have told me it was going to be this way, I would have told them they were crazy,” race winner Tony Stewart declared in Victory Lane. “This was not a car that could win the race.”
Stewart had not won a race at the Monster Mile since 2000 and has struggled for the most part at the track. This was not only Smoke’s first win of the season but, also surprisingly, his first top-10 finish in 2013.
“Our guys at the shop have been digging, “ the driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet said of his team. “That is what carries you to days like today at the end of the day.”
Not Surprising: Restart gamesmanship, which has been discussed all season long this year, played a major factor as well at the Monster Mile. This time the games played out between then race leader Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson, the latter of whom was undoubtedly the strongest car on the track.
Late in the race, NASCAR deemed that Johnson jumped the restart and black flagged him, forcing him to serve a pass through penalty. Johnson ended the race in the 17th position while Montoya finished second after the late pass on the high side by race winner Stewart.
“Jimmie (Johnson) was laying off about nearly a car length from me, and I knew he was trying to jump the restart,” the driver of the No. 42 Energizer Chevrolet said. “When we got to the line, I think he wanted to time it and he timed it too well.”
“He wanted to get the jump on me and he just jumped it too much,” Montoya continued. “I would have tried to have done the same.”
“It’s one of those deals that when you time it too good, it actually hurts you.”
Johnson of course had a different take on the restart gamesmanship, blaming Montoya instead.
“I was at half throttle,” Johnson said. “At some point you have to go.”
“I’m waiting for Montoya and he never comes,” Johnson continued. “Chad (Knaus, crew chief) told me to take off and not worry about it.”
“Not a good way to lose the race,” Johnson said. “We had the strongest car.”
Surprising: Jeff Gordon, this week driving the No. 24 AARP Credit Cards from Chase Chevrolet, was surprisingly the best finisher amongst the Hendrick Motorsports group.
Gordon finished third, while teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished tenth, Jimmie Johnson finished 17th and Kasey Kahne took the checkered flag in 23rd after spinning out on lap 318.
“Yeah it was a fantastic finish for us,” Gordon said. “We battled hard all day long.”
“Today was a great race for us, just because we were sitting there 12th, 13th, 14th, and we stayed out and all of a sudden, here we are third.”
“So that’s a great lesson for us to learn when we go to other tracks as well.”
This was Gordon’s 23rd top-10 finish in 41 races at Dover International Speedway. The third place finish was also critical to Gordon, who jumped from fifteenth to eleventh in the point standings.
Not Surprising: Another parts failure played a role in Kyle Busch’s failure to score the finish that he wanted. In spite of that, however, he did end the race in the top—five, finishing fourth.
“We must have broken a right front bump stop or something,” Busch said. “Just past halfway, that’s when it took a dump on us.”
“I hate it,” Busch continued. “It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to capitalize on getting a win.”
Surprising: Kyle Busch was not the only Toyota driver to experience mechanical failures as both Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. surprisingly suffered blown engines.
“Something let go in the motor,” Truex Jr. said. “Just dropped a cylinder and started smoking all at once.”
“We were one or two adjustments away there from having something for them,” the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota said. “Damn, I wish we could have made it to the end.”
“Something broke in our engine too,” Kenseth said. “Pretty disappointing.”
“Something went wrong with a part,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Not Surprising: Michael Waltrip Racing, with the exception of Martin Truex, Jr., showcased their survival skills at the Monster Mile , with Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin finishing sixth and ninth respectively.
“We got a pretty decent finish but we just didn’t run very good all weekend long,” Bowyer said. “Definitely need to go back and do our homework and figure some things out for our 5-Hour Energy Toyota.”
“It was a really great effort by our team,” Martin said. “Our Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota had more potential at the end than we were able to show.”
“We’re making progress.”
Surprising: Denny Hamlin, who described himself as being on a mission to win and who snagged the coveted pole position, had a surprisingly bad day at Dover.
On lap 378, Hamlin blew a tire and hit the wall, bringing out the seventh caution of the day. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight/Autism Speaks Toyota finished 34th and fell to 26th in the point standings.
Not Surprising: With the temperature being so high, it was no surprise that tempers ran a little hot as well. Ryan Newman, manhandling his No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet without power steering, had his own temper flare-up while trying to pass David Gilliland, behind the wheel of the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford.
And when the two drivers touched, they both went spinning and crashing hard.
“We just got wrecked,” Gilliland said. “It is a shame.”
“Unfortunately someone lost their patience a little bit,” Gilliland continued. “It is too bad but that is just the way it goes I guess.”
Newman declined comment after the incident.
Surprising: Brad Keselowski was the highest finishing Ford, bringing his Blue Deuce to the checkered flag in the fifth position. He also had his crew chief Paul Wolfe back atop the war wagon after serving his penalties and suspension.
“We drove hard all day, we just didn’t have the speed needed to go win the race,” Keselowski said. “ But we had the speed we needed to have a solid day.”
“The guys did a great job executing today,” Keselowski said. “We wanted to win too so we will keep working to find a little more speed and get up there.”
Unfortunately, Keselowski’s good run was marred by NASCAR’s announcement that his car did not pass post-race inspection as its front was too low. Penalties were just announced and include a fine of $25,000 for crew chief Wolfe and the continuation of his probation until year-end.
The team has also been docked six driver points and six car owner points.
Not Surprising: Joey Logano, who won the Nationwide race the day before, exceeded his own expectations, battling back from a flat tire and using the lucky dog position to finally finish the race in the seventh position.
“We fought all day basically trying to get a lucky dog after that flat tire,” Logano said. “We would get one back and then go down two and then get one back.”
“This weekend I thought we were going to finish about 15 laps down,” Logano continued. “We weren’t any good in practice and Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and all the guys did a good job making it better for me.”
“By the end it was a top-five car and we just ran out of time,” Logano said. “ I feel like that we could have finished in the top-five but considering where we were, we will take that all day.”