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I’m going to spare you of all the “monster” references you are going to hear this weekend since Dover International Speedway’s nickname - “The Monster Mile” - will be echoed hundreds of times between all the television broadcasts from the track. However, predicting the winner of the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday will be no easy task and not because this track is a crapshoot.
The whole season has been a crapshoot. Last weekend’s victory by Regan Smith at Darlington Raceway gave the series its second first-time winner this year - two more than we saw all of last year - not to mention that no one not named Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick has won more than one race this year.
As far as predicting the winner for the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series events this weekend, just stick with Busch and you should at least be close.
Here are some questions on my mind heading into the NASCAR triple-header weekend in Dover:
Will there be any retaliation from Harvick? … The rivalry between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch extends all the way back to Homestead-Miami Speedway of last season, where a war of words ensued after contact from Harvick ended Busch’s day (and season) prematurely. Harvick all but admitted to intentionally wrecking Busch, saying that Busch had “raced me like a clown all day.”
Last weekend in Darlington, aggressive driving between the two hard-chargers continued with repeated beating and banging between the two causing Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer to sustain heavy contact on the inside wall. Moments after the caution flew, Busch hooked Harvick’s right rear bumper and sent him into the outside wall. Following the race, Harvick and Busch had a brief exchange of cat-and-mouse at the entrance to pit road before both cars came to a stop with Busch behind Harvick. Harvick got out of the car, walked over to Busch (who was still in the car), reached inside to throw a punch as Busch drove off running into the back of Harvick’s No. 29 car and shoving it right into pit wall - severely damaging the front end of the car.
On Tuesday, NASCAR announced that both Busch and Harvick had been penalized $25,000 apiece and had been placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races for violating Sections 12-1 of the NASCAR Rule Book ("actions detrimental to stock car racing").
Both Busch and Harvick are entered in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday. They are more than likely going to be racing each other for the victory.
My initial reaction is that Harvick is too smart to exact revenge just six days after the incident and instead will wait until a more “convenient” time when the attention isn’t so centered on the rivalry - when Busch will be more affected by the incident than right now. Closer to the Chase perhaps?
Which win was more memorable—Trevor Bayne or Regan Smith? … Not only were Bayne and Smith first-time winners, they were underdog drivers with victories that no one saw coming. Bayne isn’t even eligible for points in the Sprint Cup Series, opting instead to run for the Nationwide Series championship for Roush Fenway Racing (though those plans have since been sidelined from a condition that has kept Bayne on the sidelines the past two races). That’s why it was so surprising when Bayne became the youngest winner ever to win the Daytona 500 earlier this February. What followed was a media tour that introduced the 20-year-old driver to the world, making appearances on shows such as "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Good Morning America" and "Lopez Tonight" while spreading a message that captured the attention of many Christian media outlets.
Meanwhile, Regan Smith won his first career race at Darlington with a team far removed from the NASCAR community in Charlotte, NC, instead operating Furniture Row Racing out of Denver, CO. Not to mention the fact that it was Mother’s Day weekend and Smith got choked up while mentioning his own mother Lee in Victory Lane who was absent from the race that day.
If you’re judging by the length of the paragraphs above, that would mean Bayne had a more memorable win but consider this: Remember the last time Smith crossed the finish line first? I don’t mean the last time he won. Saturday night was his first win. But the last time he crossed the finish line first was back in 2008 at Talladega Superspeedway, when NASCAR ruled that Smith had made an illegal pass below the yellow line and instead awarded the victory to Tony Stewart.
I might still vote for Bayne but I won’t be forgetting Smith’s win anytime soon either.
Who will be the next first-time winner? … It’s always enlightening to see a fresh face in Victory Lane and there are a few worthy candidates worth considering.
David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger are four drivers competing in the Sprint Cup Series race at Dover this weekend who are still looking for their first career wins. Ragan and Menard have shown some improvement this year over last, while teammates Ambrose and Allmendinger have shown their own flashes of brilliance in the past.
Based on recent performance, I think I’d put my money on Menard. Or Ragan. Or … you know what, I’m just not sure. Just keep watching.
Will Kyle Busch break Mark Martin’s record? … Well yeah…. But let’s take a look at the numbers just for the heck of it anyway!
After winning last weekend’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway, Busch now has 48 career series wins - just one shy of Martin’s series record wins (that’s 49 if you’re bad at simple math). More than likely, Busch will win several more races this year and he’ll be well over 50 wins by the end of 2011.
However, Martin will have a couple of chances to at least maintain his very impressive numbers. Martin is scheduled to compete in the races at Kentucky Speedway and Michigan International Speedway later this season.
Can Regan Smith be a possible Chase contender? … While it’s extremely unlikely that Smith is going to somehow climb his way up to the top-10 in points before the Chase starts in September, there is a possibility Smith could be a Chase contender with NASCAR’s new wild card system.
This year, the top-10 in points will automatically be locked into the Chase following the September Richmond race and the two drivers with the most wins - provided they are in the top-20 in points - will fill the wild card slots.
As it stands now, Jeff Gordon and A.J. Allmendinger are currently filling the wild card spots. Allmendinger is 11th in points while Gordon is the only driver outside of the top-10 but inside the top-20 in points with a victory. Currently, he is sitting 17th.
Smith is currently 27th in the standings (29 points out of the top-20).
Bonus questions: Why does Carl Edwards keep finishing second to these newbies (finished second to both Bayne and Smith)? … Why is MB Motorsports so good at finding winners (both Edwards and Smith competed for MB Motorsports for a time in the Camping World Truck Series) … How badly did Johnny Sauter botch the first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles game (Satuer threw out the first pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday)?