There is a theme to NASCAR in 2016.
Our theme is epic finishes.
Dover provided this year. Holy moly Dover provided.
The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone expected an epic race out of Dover. I know I expected Jimmie Johnson to roll in and house everyone. Or Harvick. The Big Four teams, Gibbs in particular, have been wicked dominant this year. I really expected a runaway race here and for the opening of the day at Dover, that’s exactly what we got. Clean air meant a lot out front.
Then the track took rubber and the racing grooves opened up.
Kenseth had to work hard to earn his win this week. I thought Kyle Larson was going to score his first win. Him and Chase Elliot were flying around the track. The ironic part is that if Larson hadn’t needed to hold off Chase, I think he would have had the time to wear Kenseth down. The 20 was slipping and sliding all over the place by the closing laps. Larson was too, but that’s the way he likes it, rim riding around the Harry Gant Lane. He just ran out of time there at the end.
I really did think Larson had him at the end too. Kenseth is a crafty veteran though. Larson could have used the chrome horn too. No one would have blamed him for going all out to score his first win. But Larson made it a point to race clean. “You can see, there’s some drama in the sport, and it takes drivers years to get over it. … I try to race everybody with respect,” he said after the race. Good on Larson for taking the high road. (Also sounds like a bit of a backhanded dig there)
Larson v Kenseth made for a fantastic ending but that wasn’t the craziest part of the race.
On a lap 355 restart during a race where track position was a big deal, Jimmie Johnson had the outside lane. The lane had been working best most of the day. Truex was behind him having gamed the run off pit road to get the outside lane. The 78 car was wicked fast and it was shaping up to be a showdown between Truex and Johnson. When the green flag dropped, Johnson’s transmission didn’t click. The thing got stuck in neutral. Truex got sandwhiched. The whole lot of them spun out in front of the field. Carnage. Took out a lot of the best cars on the track. Officially eighteen cars were involved, just shy of half the field. More than a couple were down for the count. You don’t think of Dover when you think of “The Big One.”
Youth Shows Up
So I talked about Larson and Chase Elliott but they’re not the only young guys to show up with a strong race at Dover. Take a look of the ages of the top ten. Larson is 23. Elliott is 20. Blaney is 22. Trevor Bayne is 25 and finally starting to live up to his potential. Sometimes people get worried about the future of NASCAR. When I see results like that, I won’t. Add in Austin Dillon, who got crunched by the Monster Mile earlier on with some busted parts, there are five guys who are going to end up in the winner’s circle. Five guys who can carry the sport onward. I love that these guys are getting finishes to go with all the promise they came into Cup with.
Truex’s Doom and Gloom
Truex just can’t catch a break. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this in 2016. Read that above paragraph. Truex was just the innocent bystander in that wreck. Green flag drops, you gotta go. That’s what he did. The red flag to clean up the big mess was advantageous though. Teams aren’t allowed to touch the cars, but everyone rolls into town with pre-fabbed bumpers and fenders. The Furniture Row team preassembled the new body work and strapped it all down on the car to get the aero functioning again. I get the sense they pretty much hoped for the best with all the internal stuff. They battled back. The car was fast and Truex managed to pull off a ninth place finish.
So I guess this doubles as a Shout Out too.
The Rest of the Shout Outs
Shout out number one… Danica!
That’s right. Giving a shout out to Danica. She dodged the big mess when Johnson’s transmission decided it didn’t feel like working anymore. I snark that she’s not living up to her potential and that someone else should get a shot in that top shelf equipment… and I stand by that. But credit where credit is due. This day at Dover was one where survival was not easy to come by. Many good cars got taken out and success in NASCAR is often determined by jumping at the opportunities that show up. Danica jumped. She actually spent the first two thirds of the race mired a lap off the pace in the 30s and high 20s. Once the cautions started showing up, she got her lap back and when half the field went CRUNCH into the wall, she jumped a lot of positions. A thirteenth place finish on a day like this isn’t anything to scoff at. It’s her best finish of the year and the best since the spring Bristol race of last year.
Shout out number two goes to The Man with the Checkbook.
Mr. Paul “Fear the Beard” Menard got a much needed decent finish with an 11th place at Dover. When you point your way into the Chase, a string of bad luck can kill off your whole season, something Menard had happen to him in years past with a Truex-style raincloud of doom following him around in the middle of 2014 to hose up his chance at the post season that year. Menard was the caboose last week at Kansas and had two 26th and a 38th already this year. It’s hard to soak up races like that when you’re living and dying by the top 15. Personally, I think RCR is improving as a whole this year even if not all the finishes are showing it. Menard has Michigan, Indy (where he’s won), and Daytona circled as places where the Neon Rocket can roll in and contend for the win. The trick is to keep up the good finishes in the mean time.
Pit Stall 13 Update
Rolling in to the amazing 13th pit stall at Dover was Kasey Kahne. Despite starting well in 11th, he faded fast and spent a lot of the race rolling around midpack in the teens and low 20s. Kahne however, was on the inside lane when the Big One showed up to Dover. He skirted all the mess that happened up in the high line and snuck in with a fourth place finish. That’s good enough for third in the Pit Stall 13 Standings.
Kahne’s performance came with a kicker though. Monday morning announcement over the wire service said the #5 car failed post race laser inspection. NASCAR packed up the car to the R+D center. No word yet on any penalties or whathaveyou. Wait and see on this one.
- 8th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Took a decent midpack car and danced into the top ten towards the end of the race
- 27th – #98 Cole Whitt – The car DNF’d near the end, but survived longer than a lot of people at Dover
- 36th – #30 Josh Wise – The TMG car had mechanical issues a couple times, finished running though
- 38th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Crashed out at lap 214, actually had a sponsor again though.
All Star Weekend Up Next
NASCAR heads home for real this time, no Kansas pun involved. The All Star Weekend hits Charlotte and all the glory and shenanigans that come with it. The format has been tweaked … again. I don’t even know what’s going on with it. I’ve heard that NASCAR is trying a new aero package as an experiment and that there’s some complicated thing involving pit stops that was proposed by Keslowski at the Driver’s Council. I tend to not pay attention until I turn it on and see what’s going on. It’s too tough to keep track of.
Frankly, I would love to see the All Star Race rotate locations. Maybe even hit up places that Cup doesn’t normally go to. How awesome would it be to see the Cup guys tear it up at Eldora in a race for money and glory? That would have the potential to be the best thing ever. EVER.
I do get why NASCAR keeps it in Charlotte. Old timers whine about tradition, and there are about five races where I’ll give them that. Really, I think having two weeks at home is the real treat for the NASCAR traveling circus. Except for the guys in Furniture Row being based out of Denver and not Charlotte like everyone else. The sport has three off weekends a year and it’s going down to two next year. Hanging out at home in Charlotte is a big bonus for everyone and I can live with that even if I think the All Star Race would benefit by moving around.
As for what to expect?
Well I seriously hope that someone beats Danica in the fan vote. Josh Wise getting in with the DogeCar was one of the best things ever. I stand by my statements that NASCAR needs internet nerds as fans and poo-pooing the Reddit community that supported Josh Wise and his underdog (under-doge) team was a bad move. Anyways. The fans get to vote in two people this year. The top five are currently Danica, Blaney, Elliott, Larson, and DiBenedetto.
Danica is kind of a duh to get in. Honestly, I have no idea who will get the other spot. Blaney, Elliot and Larson clearly represent the future of the sport. DiBenedetto is a guy I think out drives the equipment he has and after his run at Bristol and the DiBurrito campaign, he might get some of the Reddit crowd on his side. If I had to pick one to throw down money on, I think I’d have to go with Elliott. He’s getting good finishes and has the second generation built in fans.
I also applaud NASCAR letting in three winners from the segments into the main show. I’ll call on Blaney, Larson and Elliott all as good shots to get in via segment wins. Could leave the door open to DiBurrito.