It’s time to put a nice little bow on everything that went down at the Monster Mile.
The Challenger Round came to a conclusion Sunday at Dover International Speedway and it was defending series champion Kevin Harvick who conquered Miles the Monster to punch his ticket to the Contender Round. You couldn’t get any more dominant than “Happy Harvick” with leading 355 of 400 laps and a 149.7 driver rating. If qualifying hadn’t been rained out on Friday, I truly believe he would have led all 400 laps. Harvick wasn’t even passed for the lead on the track under green. The only time he lost the lead was on pit road because his pit stall was behind the start/finish line.
The finishing bridesmaid was Kyle Busch, who led 19 laps. Afterward, Busch said, “it was a really good day for us. I can’t say enough about this entire Interstate Batteries team. They did a great job today. Adam Stevens gave me a great piece and when you look at the amount of practice time we had, it was pretty hard to figure out what you had. We had a second–place car and we finished second with it; nothing to hang our heads about.”
Focus on the phrase, “we finished second with it; nothing to hand out head about.” I find it amazing that these words came from the same Busch that not long ago would have responded to a second–place finish with something like, “yeah, but we didn’t finish first.” If you weren’t convinced that “Rowdy” had become a new man after his wreck at Daytona, this should do the trick.
The biggest shock of the week hands down went to the master of Dover, Jimmie Kenneth Johnson (and yes, his middle name is Kenneth). All he had to do was finish 25th or better and he would have been racing in the Contender Round. At a track where he has an average finish of 9.1, that should have been easy. Unfortunately, the racing gods were not with him Sunday as he went behind the garage after making an unscheduled stop on lap 103. He would go on to finish 41st and get bounced out of the Challenger Round.
After making a gutsy outside pass on Jamie McMurray in the closing laps, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the podium in third place. If he hadn’t won either Daytona or Talladega in the regular season, “June Bug” would’ve been bounced along with Johnson and McMurray would’ve moved on.
I was also impressed with the silent fifth place performance put on by Aric Almirola.
After being sent to the rear of the field for an unapproved adjustment, Martin Truex Jr. drove to an 11th place finish. I don’t have much to say on that other than a solid day at a track where passing is at a premium.
Now that “Big Daddy” Jeff Gordon survived the Challenger Round with a 12th place finish, I believe the Contender Round puts the ball in Gordon’s court. He has historically run great at Kansas Speedway and finished fourth back in May plus he is the all-time points-paying restrictor plate race winner in NASCAR history at the Alabama roulette wheel known as Talladega Superspeedway.
Overall, this race was a “meh” for me. It was far from the worst race I’ve seen at Dover, but not one of the best.
Here are some tidbits to nibble on. Matt Kenseth ran the fastest lap on the ninth circuit with a lap of 22.471 and a speed of 160.206 mph, Matt DiBenedetto was the Sunoco Rookie of the Race and Harvick was the Mobil 1 Drive of the Race with a 149.7 driver rating.
This Saturday, NASCAR races in their backyard at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage of the Bank of America 500 starts at 6:30 p.m. on NBC (if the Navy vs. Notre Dame game doesn’t go into overtime) and the radio broadcast can be heard at 6:00 p.m. on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
I hope you enjoyed reading this piece. It’s my first for Speedway Media and I hope it’s the first of many. Until then, I’ll leave you with this fact. An ounce of platinum can be stretched 10,000 feet.