The first elimination race, otherwise known as ‘It’s Over in Dover’, produced some very surprising and not surprising moments in the 46th running of the AAA 400 at the Monster Mile.
Surprising: Typically there are a few monstrous wrecks at Dover that collect several drivers at a time. But with the surprising lack of any major crashes and thanks to an unusual parts failure, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from further Chase contention.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished 41st, with just Jeb Burton, who solo crashed twice, and Brett Moffitt, who solo crashed once, finished behind him.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” Johnson said. “That’s racing. I’ve lost championships this way and I’ve won championships this way. It’s not the way we wanted to end the season, but it’s racing and there’s not much we can do.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
Not Surprising: Promises were made and promises were kept on this race day. Kevin Harvick promised that he would stay the course, keep confident, and believe in his team. And that promise not only led him to Victory Lane but also to fulfill his other promise, to allow son Keelan to keep the Miles the Monster trophy in his room for the night after the race.
“He’s been asking for the Monster trophy for a couple years,” Harvick said. “Before the race started, we got him a little figurine just in case things didn’t work out today so he wasn’t disappointed.”
“I’m just so proud of everyone from Stewart-Haas Racing to do what we’ve done the last three weeks,” the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Jimmy Johns Chevrolet continued. “We weren’t in a great position coming into today. But that’s what this team is made of and that’s what teamwork is all about.”
“This is what it’s all about, those big-time moments.”
This was Harvick’s first-ever win at Dover International Speedway, which made his promise keeping all the sweeter.
Surprising: Although advancing to the next round of the Chase for his final time ever, Jeff Gordon admitted to a major freak-out moment.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘drama-free’, the driver of the No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet said. “I was freaking out there at the end.”
“We’ve gone through a lot and it hasn’t been pretty,” Gordon continued. “That’s kind of the way today was. We knew we needed to be in the top 10 or top 11, or maybe 12th, if we were lucky. We did that.”
“Until the end, when that caution came out and people swapped-up their strategy; we just got ate up on that restart and were falling back and I didn’t know what was going to happen. So, it wasn’t easy.”
“We’ll reset and go see what we can do in the next three (races).”
Not Surprising: It was the best of times and the worst of times for the driver of the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota. Clint Bowyer started the race in Dover in the worst of positions due to a significant penalty and then finished 14th, which was not good enough to advance to the next round of the Chase.
“Our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota was good today – I’d say a top-five car,” Bowyer said after the race. “We just had some bad luck with that loose wheel early on. We got two laps down but were able to make those up.”
“Real proud of everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing for all their hard work to get us in the Chase. Just sorry we aren’t able to go to the next round.”
The MWR driver did experience the best of times prior to the race, however, as he secured his future racing prospects. Bowyer announced that he will race for HScott Motorsports in 2016 and then will fill the seat of the retiring Tony Stewart in 2017.
Surprising: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates had a great Dover race, with Jamie McMurray finishing fourth and Kyle Larson finishing ninth. And even though he missed the Chase due to a tiebreaker with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., McMurray was surprisingly able to celebrate that good finish.
“We were driving so hard those last few laps,” McMurray said. “We haven’t run this well so I’m thrilled with our performance today. We weren’t able to make it to the next round, but it was a good day for this team. We just needed one more point.”
Not Surprising: It was the good, the bad, and the ugly for the driver of the No. 2 Wurth Ford Fusion.
“We survived kind of ugly today, but I’d rather survive ugly than not survive pretty,” Keselowski said after finishing 16th while still moving on to the next round of the Chase. “We’ll take it and move on and realize that everything we’ve done from this point in the season doesn’t really mean anything.”
“Everything is back to scratch and that’s probably a good thing for us this year.”
Surprising: Aric Almirola, behind the wheel of the No. 43 Nathan’s Famous Ford, was the highest finishing Ford, snatching a fifth place finish from the Monster.
“That was a good run for us,” Almirola said. “I’m really proud of the guys. That’s two top-5s in a row here at Dover. It was a really good job. We just struggled with getting the car in the racetrack most of the day and right there at the end four tires paid off for us. That was some really good adjustments by Trent and the guys and the pit crew did a good job getting me off pit road and just a really solid day for us.”
Not Surprising: There was another weird animal sighting during this race, following squirrels, foxes and other various critters at some of the other tracks. This time, it was a duck that caused a bit of chaos, landing on the track and then flying off to rest on pit road.
Surprising: While every other driver was worrying about the points and where they were running, there was one driver who was taking a devil may care attitude towards it all. Kyle Busch, behind the wheel of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, finished in the runner-up position, which was good enough to move forward with his championship hopes.
“I wasn’t doing any thinking about the points,” Kyle Busch said. “I think when you’re in the position that we were in when we were running second there the whole race, you don’t have to watch it.”
“You just do the best you can and that was the best that we were going to do today. Fortunately, we came out with that finish and second-place was what we needed to do.”
“The points reset so we’re back even with those guys and hopefully we can have a good, solid next three races.”
Not Surprising: In spite of not having a single driver in the Chase, Roush Fenway Racing continues to improve as they look to the 2016 season. Their best finishing driver at Dover was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who finished top ten, in fact in the eighth position.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Stenhouse said. “We didn’t get much practice this weekend due to the weather but felt like we had a strong Fastenal Ford during the limited practice we had on Saturday. We’ve been focusing on being consistent and we have finished inside the top-20 the past four races. We will keep building and take the momentum into the off-season as we prepare for the 2016 season.”
Surprising: There was one driver that was still upset in spite of working his way from the rear of the field to finish ninth. Martin Truex Jr. was sent to the back from pit road due to the right rear being bowed out and had to work his way forward in order to move to the next round in the Chase.
“We don’t do anything that any of the other teams don’t do,” Truex Jr. said. “They tried to make an example out of us for some reason today. We just stayed focused. We didn’t have a great car, but we fought it and fought it.”
“We did what we needed to do.”
Not Surprising: Forget the Monster, at least one driver moving forward in the Chase had his eye on the next biggest challenge, Talladega. Joey Logano pulled off a tenth place finish at Dover but was definitely looking ahead to the next round.
“It’s nice to race that way, but we’re back to zero now,” the driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford said. “I think this next round is the most important. It’s really hard to get through it when you look at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega in particular.”