What do Bristol and Dover have in common? Every race fan knows that those are the only two all-concrete tracks that make up the Nextel Cup schedule, but usually the similarities end there. The last stop of the year at these two facilities has seen the two tracks exchange their personalities and the result was a very intense race on Sunday afternoon.
Dover’s Monster Mile has earned its reputation as being one of the toughest tracks on the circuit as it is very physically demanding on both driver and equipment. While 400 miles at Dover can be very tough, it usually is a walk in the park when compared to 500 laps at Bristol that on the norm produces enough crumpled sheet metal to make any junkyard owner smile.
Last month’s stop at Bristol produced a very clean race that lacked the emotion and crumpled cars we have come to expect. It definitely wasn’t the Bristol of old and the jury is still out on whether or not that is the kind of racing we (fans) want to see from the Tennessee track.
Dover this past weekend took on the old feeling of Bristol as the emotion and intensity usually reserved for the Tennessee halfmile was suddenly covering the track. The racing was hard with very little give-and-take taking place. The race featured 13 caution flags with the “big one” occurring with just 14 laps left when a dozen cars got together after Kurt Busch bounced off the wall. The crash may eventually play a huge role in who wins the championship as Chase drivers Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Busch were all involved.
Carl Edwards went on to win the race and move up five spots in the Chase standings to third, but during post race inspection of his car, it was found to be too low in the right rear. NASCAR had not yet announced any penalties, but immediately after the post-race inspection a spokesman for the governing body said Edwards would be allowed to keep the win but penalties, fines or both would be announced later in the week.
In Edwards’s defense, the infraction is not considered a Car of Tomorrow-type penalty. There wasn’t any evidence that the integrity of the structure of the car was manipulated in any way to cause the height issue.
A couple of similar cases this season involving Johnny Sauter and Kyle Busch resulted in a $25,000 fine for their crew chiefs and a loss of 25 points. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car was also found with a height issue earlier this season and it resulted in a 100- point penalty, but that infraction involved what NASCAR likes to refer to as involving the integrity of the car.
Dover’s mean streak on Sunday wasn’t only confined to the starting field for the race as it also shook up the Chase standings. Only Kyle Busch in the fifth spot left Dover in the same position he entered. The rest of the field was turned upside down as every other driver either found himself moving up or down with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin each falling three spots to fourth, 10th and 12th.
While Dover did turn the standings upside down, it did not take away the closeness of this year’s Chase. Gordon’s lead over second-place Tony Stewart is just two points, while third-place Carl Edwards and fourth-place Johnson trail by three and four points. The closeness doesn’t end there, as Kyle Busch is only 10 points back in fifth, and last week’s winner Clint Bowyer in sixth trails Gordon by 18.
Chase notes: Denny Hamlin in 10th is only 158 points out of the top spot, which now has us looking for a stat that might shed some light on who will be this year’s champion. When Jeff Gordon won his four titles in 1995, ’97, ’98, and ’01, he won at least one race in the final 10 races. In the three years of the Chase, Gordon has won only once in the final 10 – the year he didn’t make the Chase. If Gordon wants to hang on to the top spot, it may be that he needs to visit a victory lane during the last eight races. In fact, any driver that wants to win the title may have to have a trip or two to victory lane as we head down the final stretch of races.
Race Preview – Event: LifeLock 400. Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile oval, 15 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Sept. 30, 1 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.