Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chase Coverage: Dover Wrap-Up Report

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This past weekend the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series set their sights on the Monster Mile. Twelve drivers were fighting it out for top spot in the points but a few of the non-Chasers looked to spoil the fun. Although AJ Allmendinger led a large portion of the laps, it was Jimmie Johnson who led the most and emerged the victor. With two of the 10 races in the books, Denny Hamlin is the points leader. Here’s what our team had to say following the AAA 400.

1. DENNY HAMLIN – (LEADER) – HOLLY MACHUGA
Considering how bad of a track Dover is for Denny Hamlin, it is pretty amazing to see him still in the lead for points this week. Denny started fourth for the AAA 400 and finished ninth, adding another top 10 to his races at Dover.

Denny heated things up between himself and RCR this week when he told the media his thoughts on Bowyerpalooza. To sum things up, he said that this had been going on in the garage for awhile and everyone knew and that he didn't blame them for pushing the limits. Due to this, there was a little bit of on-track action between the 11 team and Kevin Harvick's 29 team during practice on Saturday. Hamlin and Harvick spoke with one another in the garage, wasting precious practice time. It was a warning to Denny that he should not mess with Richard Childress Racing. Before getting out of the car on Sunday after the race, he was told to calm down and think about what he was going to say. He had been reprimanded for speaking his mind to the media.

All in all, it was a good weekend for Denny and the FedEx team. Ninth is one of his best finishes at Dover. Keep watching that FedEx team! They are truly working for this championship and holding the 48 team off!

2. JIMMIE JOHNSON – (– 35) – REBECCA KIVAK

Putting a brutal race at New Hampshire in the rear-view mirror, Jimmie Johnson won in dominant fashion at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Despite some slow pit stops early on in the AAA 400, Johnson led a race-high 191 laps and cruised to his sixth victory of the season with a 2.6-second lead over Jeff Burton.


The win marked the four-time Sprint Cup champion’s sixth victory at the Monster Mile and propelled him four spots, from sixth to second, in the championship standings, 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. The strong effort showed the 48’s “drive for five” is indeed alive and sent a message to the garage that Johnson doesn’t intend to back down. The day was made even sweeter by the first appearance of his daughter, 2-month-old Genevieve Marie, in victory lane.

Johnson and the 48 Lowes team started the weekend on a high note, winning the pole position for Sunday’s race, his fourth at the 1-mile concrete oval. He reported a tight racecar for much of the AAA 400. He led the first 12 laps before being passed by AJ Allmendinger. Running second when a caution came out on lap 39, Johnson pitted and got four tires as well as a trackbar adjustment, but a problem on the left side led to a 15.3-second stop. Johnson lost three spots on pit road and restarted the race in fifth. For the next 70 laps Johnson was running between the third and sixth positions.

On lap 116, the 48 crew made an air pressure adjustment but stumbled in the pits, resulting in a 15-second stop. Johnson continued to run in the top five and on lap 172 retook the lead when Allmendinger pitted. After a caution for a blown tire by Matt Kenseth on lap 186, Johnson pitted and took four tires. He won the race off pit road with a 13.5-second stop. Before green pit stops started on lap 265, Johnson built as high as a 4.1-second lead over the rest of the field. After a caution on lap 290, Johnson lost the lead in the race off pit road to Kyle Busch. On lap 337 Johnson reclaimed the lead from Busch. In the remaining 63 laps of the AAA 400, Johnson only gave up the lead once, when he pitted on lap 364 and Carl Edwards led for a single lap. Johnson was able to maintain at least a 2-second lead over second-place Burton right up to the checkered flag.

After his win, Johnson said, “There's this huge weight off my shoulders that we were able to win a race in the Chase, rebound from last weekend. We're in the middle of this thing, and I'm really, really excited."

3. KYLE BUSCH – (– 45) – LINDI BESS
With the #48 Lowes Chevy sitting on the pole for the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it was important for the #18 Interstate Batteries Camry to strengthen its position in its pursuit and prove that JGR is among the top competitors in the series, showing that they have what it takes to be champions!

The #18 Toyota Camry went into Dover sitting third in the points standings. Having a qualifying run of 154.619 mph and starting 11th, Kyle knew he had some ground to make up, especially if he really wanted to repeat the double at Dover. Going into the AAA 400 on the momentum gained from running away with the NNS race on Saturday, Kyle said, "Yesterday was good, today will be great."

The race was dominated by Johnson with having led almost half of its 400 laps, but JGR managed to get all three of its drivers a place in the top 10 for the day. The Interstate Batteries Toyota had an awesome afternoon on pit road with pit stops under 15.0 seconds. This top-10 finish was definitely a product of the pit crew of the #18 .

With less than 130 laps to go, a caution came out. The #18 Toyota Camry had a great pit stop coming out in first position. With under 70 laps remaining, Kyle reported the car was too tight. He drops to the second position, behind the #48. He soon loses second position to Jeff Burton in the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for RCR, finding himself in third. Kyle begins to fight for positions and continues to push his Interstate Batteries Camry forward. He finds himself up against brother Kurt for fourth.

Pitting one last time with 35 to go, it's four tires and fuel to take the Interstate Battery Camry to the end of the race. The #18 car remained too tight for the balance of the race but Busch managed to bring it home in sixth place. He tightened his third-place grip on Denny Hamlin and will be knocking on the doors of both him and Jimmie Johnson next weekend.

Now only 45 points out of leader Hamlin, and 10 points behind four-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Kyle and crew chief Dave Rodgers must remain focused on the big picture. There are some strong teams out there, both in and out of the Chase. You can bet that the Chasers who still have a chance are gonna show up with every intention of taking that checkered flag.

Good luck to all the 2010 Chasers!

4. KURT BUSCH – (– 59) – KATY LINDAMOOD
Dover has always been a question mark on the schedule for Kurt Busch. Not traditionally a good track for the Penske driver, Busch went into the weekend confident that the team could bounce back from last week’s solid, yet disappointing performance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Starting from the eight position, Busch stayed within the top 10 for most of the day and ended the race in fourth position, which allowed him to move up one spot in the points standings.

What started out as a good day for the Miller Lite team had the potential to end poorly because of driver error on pit road. Busch had moved into third position when the caution came out on lap 189 for debris caused by the shredded Matt Kenseth tire. Busch entered the pits in third position and the team took on four tires and removed air pressure from the right front. Busch was set to restart in the fourth position when he was informed of the pit road speeding penalty. Busch was forced to head to pit road again for a pass-through penalty and restarted in 18th. Of the error Busch said, “We had a pit road speeding penalty and it was my fault. The driver was just too aggressive. I was trying to be right on the edge getting in the pits. That hurt us. That was right at half way and it took us 200 laps to get back up to fourth. I think we were running third when we had the penalty.”

Busch was also quick to point out that crew chief Steve Addington has helped him to perform better at Dover this season than he has in the past. Addington, in his first season with Busch and the Penske said following the race, “We'd been loose all day and we just kept chipping at it and finally got a little bit more aggressive with the car. We ended up being the fastest car on the race track at one point. One set of tires didn't have the grip that the other sets did and that's where we got a little bit off.”

Up next on the schedule in Kansas, which has never been a good track for Busch. However, given the consistent finishes the team has pull off recently. Busch’s chances of a good weekend at the Kansas track are looking up and for fans of the elder Busch this is a very good sign.

5. KEVIN HARVICK – ( –65) – AMBER ARNOLD
Amber's post-race analysis for Kevin Harvick is temporarily unavailable and will be added as soon as possible.

6. CARL EDWARDS – ( –73) – AMANDA EBERSOLE
The Monster Mile seemed tame this time around and for Carl Edwards, this was another great race with a top-5 finish.

The weekend was off to a good start for Edwards; he started off practice Friday and posted the second fastest time on the charts. (Ryan Newman was fastest) Second practice was a bit of a struggle with Bob Osborne and the team trying some different setups for the car, leaving Carl at 21st on the time charts. Qualifying went well for the Aflac team: Carl was fifth after his run and eventually ended up in 10th.

Sunday’s race saw Carl Edwards be the leader of the Roush Fenway cars, as all his teammates finished the race a lap or more down. Carl, on the other hand, had a good race, no worse than 12th place at any time and he battled for position with Joey Logano and Kurt Busch throughout the race. The Aflac Ford Fusion was loose throughout the race and adjustments were made on pit road to tighten the car up. There were some stumbles on pit road and positions were lost, but the 99 team rebounded about halfway through the race and showed they are contenders for the Sprint Cup. Carl finished the race in fifth and now moves up to sixth in points. Denny Hamlin is still the current points leader, and Carl is -73 back.

7. JEFF BURTON – ( –80) – GENNA SHORT
From a 27th starting spot to a very impressive second-place finish at Dover, Jeff Burton proves that you can’t count out the 31 team just yet. Up two spots to seventh place, he sits just 80 points out of the lead.

The 31 car ran well under sunny skies but seemed to fall back when the cloud cover came.

“My guys did a great job of adjusting to the track and getting the car better at the right time,” Burton said in a post-race interview. “Halfway through that next to last run, my car just got really happy and took off. We then became a contender.”

Burton ran in the top six for a good part of the race but it wasn’t until the final quarter of the race where he really proved himself to be a potential threat for the win. With Clint Bowyer’s penalty, Jeff is currently seated in the second-best points position in the RCR garage.

8. JEFF GORDON – ( –83) – GENEVIEVE CADORETTE
Jeff Gordon finished 11th and dropped down to eight in the points standings with 5285, -83 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

He qualified in 15th position and finished 26th in practice. On race day Gordon started off strong, working his way to the top 10 and moving into the third position.

After a 17.7-second final pit stop, he lost five positions and went on to finish in 11th place at the Monster Mile, which drops him to the eighth seed.

It’s been nine races since his last top-5 finish, his longest drought since 2005.

He did struggle Sunday but managed to stay on the lead lap. In post-race comments, Gordon said, “It was everything I could do to just hang on to it, let alone finish 11th. So things didn’t go our way there at the end, we lost some extra positions and just held on for 11th. That’s all we can do.”

9. GREG BIFFLE – ( –140) – STACIE BALL
Dover International Speedway, also known as the Monster Mile, finally came and tamed the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion with the tricks that it played on Greg Biffle along with the whole team in the second race of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. With solid top-10 finishes in practice and a sixth-place starting position on the grid, the team along with fans had plenty of high expectations for the AAA 400. What happens when you do not beat or follow through and get the points expected?

The race in the eyes of Biffle and the 3M Pit Bulls: Up to lap 25 when the first caution came out, Biffle was running in the top five with the head of the pack when coming in to pit for four tires along with fuel sent him out third for the restart on lap 43. The next green flag run is when the sun came out and the loose condition in the car became noticable for the driver. Adjustments were made yet did not help the cause when crew chief Greg Erwin called Biffle in early on lap 184 when the No. 16 was falling back on the grid.

Three laps after Biffle returned to the track, teammate Matt Kenseth cut a tire and brought out the third caution of the day.  Unfortunately, several cars including the leaders had not yet pitted and this caused Biffle to be two laps down. He took the wave around when the leaders pitted to gain one lap back, but restarted one lap down in the 22nd position. Biffle vied for the Lucky Dog position to get his lap back.

There would only be one more caution, however, and at that time Biffle was not in position to take advantage. He reported that the car was loose and unpredictable and the team continued to adjust on it. Biffle ran as high as 16th in the closing laps but fell back after a late-race green-flag pit stop to 20th. He was able to get by Marcos Ambrose with two laps remaining for a 19th-place finish.

“It looked like my teammate just skidded his tires trying to get on pit road,” said Biffle. “Everybody does it, but that blew the left-front out and caught us two laps down because we had just pitted. If we were running on the lead lap, I thought we were a top-10 car. It’s unfortunate. We’re not out of it, but those two finishes are not a way to start the Chase off.”

Biffle and the 3M team remain ninth in the point standings, 140 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, but only 75 points out of fifth. The team will return to the track on Sunday, Oct. 3, at Kansas Speedway.

10. TONY STEWART – ( – 162) – UNIQUE HIRAM
Dover International Speedway, “The Monster Mile,” proved to be the campground of struggles for the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet piloted by Tony Stewart. He began the race in the 25thposition and finished in the 21st, still maintaining his 10th position in the Sprint Cup Chase standings.

On lap 115, Stewart got two laps off of the pace due to a pit road speeding penalty. “I’m sorry guys,” said Stewart over the radio on the race’s cool-down lap. “I knew it as soon as I came in. I just couldn’t get slowed down enough.” Approximately on lap 295, Stewart regained one of those lost laps back; however, he would lose that regained lap back once again shortly after 300 laps.

Although Stewart and his team realize that they have a hard fought battle ahead of them over these next eight weeks, there is still an air of optimistic and positive attitudes to be successful at the next track. “You can't race with the Chase in mind," said Stewart. "You have got to race the race and you have to take it one week at a time."

The Sprint Cup Chase has definitely seen its share of shakeups with just two races completed and I believe that there are still more surprises to come. I wouldn’t count Tony Stewart and his team out of this Chase just yet because a lot can happen in the next upcoming weeks.

11. MATT KENSETH – ( –165) – WHITNEY RICHARDS
Following a disappointing finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend, Matt Kenseth came to Dover International Speedway anticipating having a great run in the AAA 400. Kenseth considers Dover as one of his favorite tracks and has seen a lot of success at the 1-mile speedway, where he’s accumulated one win, 10 top-5 finishes, 15 top-10 finishes and two poles. Kenseth and the Crown Royal crew were hoping to add to those impressive stats, but just like at New Hampshire, the team just couldn’t catch a break.

Throughout the weekend, Kenseth’s No. 17 Crown Royal Ford looked like it would be rather competitive on Sunday. There were three practice sessions over the weekend, in which Kenseth finished 6th, 13th and 4th. Even Kenseth’s spotter Mike Calinoff felt confident they had a great car for Sunday’s race. Kenseth took the green flag from the 14th position to start the 400-lap race. When the first caution of the day came out on lap 39, Kenseth took the opportunity to inform crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was a bit loose, free on entry of the turns, and lacking grip. Kenseth pitted for four tires, fuel, air pressure and track bar adjustments. After restarting 15th, Kenseth told Fennig the changes had helped, but the car was still a bit loose.

A long green-flag run followed, and Kenseth had worked his way well inside the top 10 when a second round of green-flag stops began around lap 180. While fighting the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin for position, Kenseth had to work his way to the bottom to try to get to pit road. He missed the commitment line and tried to slow his car down. The move caused the left-front tire of Kenseth’s car to blow out, causing considerable damage to the left-front of the car. Under the resulting caution, Kenseth pitted numerous times so his crew could repair the damage. He restarted 26th, one lap down on lap 194. Kenseth worked his way up to 18th after that and focused on getting into the Lucky Dog position to get back on the lead lap.

Unfortunately, the caution he needed never came out. Even with the damage, Kenseth had been running comparable lap times to the leaders, but was unable to get back on the lead lap. He was forced to accept an 18th place finish.

Kenseth came to Dover 11th in the standings, 136 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. His 18th place finish kept him in the 11th position, and he is now 165 points behind Hamlin. With the 2nd race of the Chase completed, it looks like Kenseth’s hopes of being the 2010 champion are over.

12. CLINT BOWYER – ( – 235) – AMY MCHARGUE
After a week a of many ups and downs, Clint Bowyer came into this weekend at Dover admittedly distracted. Qualifying 24th, the Richard Childress #33 Team hoped to come to Dover and perform well to regain some of the lost ground from points penalties. The race started out well; Clint gained five positions in the first five laps of green flag racing. The first 100 laps found Clint gaining on race leaders, making it through the day's first pit stop, and improving his running position consistently.

The problems began on lap 158 when Bowyer got loose and hit the wall. The #33 went a lap down and the day went downhill from there. On lap 187, when coming to the pits, a communication error from the team caused Clint to receive a penalty for speeding upon entry onto pit road. A crew member instructed Bowyer to keep his RPMs at 4600 instead of 3600. The pass-through penalty left the #33 car two laps down in 30th place on the restart.

At one point later in the race, Clint was heard on his radio saying, “Does it really matter if we are three or five laps down?” The team acknowledged that it really didn't, as Bowyer was the lowest placed Chase driver. Clint finished the race in 25th spot, three laps down. Bowyer is shown in 12th place in the Chase after his disappointing week in Dover. An appeals hearing is set up for Wednesday regarding the penalties assessed to the driver and team after the #33 car failed post-race inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center after the Louden race. If the appeals hearing finds in favor of the RCR #33 team, Clint will regain the 150 points, will be 85 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin, and gain three spots in Chase standings. As it is now, Clint is shown 235 points behind Hamlin. If the penalty stands, it's liable to be a long Chase for Clint Bowyer.

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