The 10- race schedule that makes up the Sprint Cup Chase that determines the season’s champion is both a sprint and a marathon. The drivers and teams that are in the Chase have a balancing act of taking enough chances to win races, but at the same time it’s those chances that sometimes can turn out to hurt a driver in the long run.
Sunday was just such a day as the race at Dover looked like it was going to be a battle between Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards all day long to see who would take the checkered flag. At different stages of the race both drivers had the cars to beat as they were clearly the class of the field, but sometimes that just isn’t enough.
Races are won and lost all season long by mistakes made by drivers and pit crews, but when it comes time for the Chase races, each mistake is magnified. That was the case Sunday when Carl Edwards seemed to have everything going his way when he was caught speeding off pit road on lap 246. The speeding violation put him a lap down and it wasn’t until 50 laps later that he was able to get back on the lead lap when the caution flag waved for an incident involving J.J Yeley.
Once back on the lead lap, Edwards worked his way through the field to score a third-place finish.
While Edwards had to work his way back on the lead lap, the race seemed to be falling into the lap of Jimmie Johnson as once again he and crew chief Chad Knaus continued to make their car better with each pit stop. Johnson dominated much of the race as he led the most laps on the day and as the race was winding down, he was in a position to capture the checkered flag but a couple of late restarts proved to be his undoing.
Dover, like every other track on the schedule this season, is all about track position and Kurt Busch was the driver that took advantage of his position when it mattered the most on two crucial late race restarts against Johnson. On lap 359, Johnson took the green flag as the leader but spun his tires, giving Busch the opportunity to remain beside him as the two went into turn one. Busch was able to hang on and take the lead in what would prove to be the move of the race.
Johnson was not finished as the caution flag waved one again on lap 366. This time Busch was the leader and was able to hold on to the top spot as he notched his second win of the season and the 24th of his career. Even though Johnson was disappointed with the outcome, he finished a very respectable and highly profitable second.
Busch’s win and Johnson’s runner-up finish moved both drivers up in the standings five spots after both left New Hampshire on the edge of being removed as contenders for this season’s title. Busch moved into the fourth spot and Johnson into the fifth, but more importantly, Busch trimmed 19 points from the top spot as he now sits nine points out of the lead. Johnson also had a big day in the points as he cut his point differential 16 points as he now is 13 points from the top spot.
Both drivers are now trailing leader Kevin Harvick, who posted a 10th place finish on Sunday that enabled him to move up one spot in the standings after Tony Stewart, who entered the race in first, finished 25th, dropping him two spots to third. Harvick is actually tied with Edwards for the lead as both drivers have 2,122 points, but Harvick owns the first tiebreaker between the two drivers as he has four wins on the season compared to Edwards’s one.
CHASE NOTES: Nine drivers are now within 19 points of the lead in the Chase after the first three races. The most amazing stat after Dover concerns Jeff Gordon. He entered the race in the fifth spot, trailing the leader by 23 points. His 12th-place finish dropped him four spots to ninth, but he now trails the leader by only 19 points.
Race Preview Event: Hollywood Casino 400 Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 15 degrees of banking in turns) Date: Oct. 9, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Greg Biffle