The Chase moved from New Hampshire south to Delmarva for the 40th running of the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Without a doubt, the week leading up to the race was the most surprising, with Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing receiving substantial point fines and probation for an illegal chassis mount. On top of that there was trash talking about Bowyer and the RCR team in the media center by Denny Hamlin, who then got his comeuppance on the track from RCR teammate Kevin Harvick during race practice. Here is what was surprising and not surprising when the cars finally took to the track, attempting to conquer the Monster Mile.
Surprising: While tenth place may not be a surprising finish for Richard Petty Motorsports driver A.J. Allmendinger, the fact that the man behind the wheel of the infamous No. 43 started on the outside pole and led over 140 laps of the race was most surprising. Allmendinger described it best. “It was fun to lead,” Allmendinger said. “No wonder Jimmie (Johnson) is smiling so much.” Although outside the Chase, the ‘Dinger’ has really come into his own, previewing what his 2011 season might look like now that his future is settled and he is under contract with RPM for next year.
Not Surprising: Jimmie Johnson, otherwise known as the man with the proverbial lucky horse shoe, most certainly found some good luck at Dover, achieving all of his goals for the race weekend, from sitting on the pole to finishing it in style in Victory Lane. Jimmie Johnson also celebrated the win for the first time with his wife Chandra and daughter Genevieve, just eleven weeks old. Johnson described the win as a “huge weight off my shoulders”. He also pronounced himself and the No. 48 team as “in this thing now,” second in the Chase standings, just 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Surprising: Speaking of the points leader, Denny Hamlin survived not only the controversy caused by his remarks in the media center to the garage and on track confrontations with Kevin Harvick, he actually had a good finish at the Monster Mile, a track where he has not fared well in the past. Hamlin scored a top ten, taking the checkered flag in the ninth position. In spite of his finish, Hamlin pronounced his day “mediocre.” He did say, however, that the feud with Richard Childress Racing was “over and done.”
Not Surprising: Controversy can be just plain distracting, a fact that came home to roost for the RCR driver at the center of the penalty storm. Clint Bowyer, driver of the RCR No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet, clipped the wall on lap 181, causing his right rear tire to go down. To add insult to injury, Bowyer received a pit road speeding penalty and he never really recovered, coming in 25th and remaining in the Chase points cellar.
Surprising: Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart both had reasons to get into victory lane, for themselves as well as for two small business owners who were competing for cash and prizes from the Office Depot. In fact, if either of the drivers won, the small business owner with whom they were paired would have won $1 million. Unfortunately, both drivers had fairly miserable days. Stewart had a pit road speeding penalty on lap 115, putting him two laps down. Biffle also went two laps down after pitting prior to teammate Kenseth’s blown tire, which caused one of the few cautions of the race. The two drivers, Biff and Smoke, had tough race finishes, 19th and 21st respectively, as well as languishing at the back of the pack in the Chase standings.
Not Surprising: After running out of gas with just two laps to go at Loudon, Jeff Burton’s goal coming into the Monster Mile was to just “keep going after that disappointment.” And keep going he did, at first struggling with handling but then having the car come to him toward the end of the race. With that good run and the runner up finish, Burton jumped two spots in the Chase, up to the seventh spot.
Surprising: What a difference a year makes, especially for Joey Logano at the Monster Mile. One year ago, the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota was barrel rolling end over end in one of the scariest crashes ever at the Dover track. This year, Logano had an amazing run, finishing up in the third spot. Logano now is desperately seeking consistency as he finishes out his season and looks forward to 2011.
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon continued his struggles and was NASCAR’s ‘biggest loser’ in the Chase standings. Gordon dropped four spot in the standings, from fourth to eight, due to his fight with the rubber on the race track. Gordon battled throughout the race and was running in the top ten until his pit crew dropped a lug nut on the final stop, relegating the four-time champion to 11th when the checkered flag flew.
Surprising: While the track is a ‘monster’ in many ways, it was surprising just how weather sensitive the track was throughout the race day. With clouds and a few sprinkles prior to the start of the race, to full sunshine at the half-way point and then further cloud cover towards the end of the race, many drivers had handling problems all day long. Probably most affected by the weather was Kyle Busch, who was in the front of the pack contending for the win, but fell to sixth when the weather changed.
Not Surprising: After Brad Keselowski called Kyle Busch out during driver introductions before the Bristol race, it was not surprising that all of the Cup drivers behaved themselves, appropriately introducing themselves as well as service men and women with whom they were paired. Kyle Busch did, however, have the last laugh, telling the crowd that he was “glad you all woke up” when the chorus of boos greeted him during his introductory session.
The third Chase race will be held on Sunday, October 3rd at Kansas Speedway. The Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods will kick off at 1:00 PM ET on ESPN.