Tuesday, October 2, 2012

5 Questions After the AAA 400 at Dover

Brad Keselowski and the crew celebrate with a flood of sponsor beverage
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs

Before diving into developments after the AAA 400, let’s revisit our 5 Questions Before Dover:

Will someone other than Five-Time visit Victory Lane?

You bet. When the leaders had to pit for fuel, Brad Keselowski saw an opportunity and took it. Dover was his second win of the three Chase races and moves him into the top Chase spot.

Johnson brought the car that won in June and said he liked how it felt in race trim in practice. The No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet was fast and even while saving fuel, Johnson brought it home fourth.

Which non-Chasers will distinguish themselves with good finishes at Dover?

Before the race, analyst Ricky Craven predicted a Kyle Busch win. Had it not been for fuel issues, Craven would probably have been right. But after pitting with 10 to go, Busch settled for seventh. Mark Martin, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano also finished in the top 10.

Are any fun or unusual paint schemes on tap for Dover this weekend?

No standout paint schemes or circus wigs this time, but Johnson was promoting his new self-published book, a review of his life during the 2011 Chase, shown in photos.

Can Denny Hamlin bring home a “W” at his least favorite track?

Hamlin has won three of the last six Sprint Cup races, but didn’t take home a Miles the Monster trophy this time. However, he mastered the concrete in qualifying to win his 12th career Cup pole and led 39 laps, finishing eighth. If he and teammate Kyle Busch had been able to make it on fuel, the two probably would have battled for the win.

Will any of the top-12 drivers succumb to the concrete oval?

Kenseth had a broken suspension issues and wound up back in 35th. Stewart really struggled in this race and finished 20th. Kahne had a fast car but lost position on pit road and ended up 15th, with Biffle following in 16th.

***

Now that the race is in the books, let’s look at a few new questions:

Is Matt Kenseth out of Chase contention?

After going to the garage for repairs, Kenseth’s chances for a good finish at Dover ended. It will be difficult to bounce back from a 72-point deficit with only seven races left. Barring incredibly bad finishes by the rest of the Chase drivers, unfortunately Kenseth may be out at this point.

Could the championship come down to one point again?

We witnessed the power in a single point last season. With only 32 points separating the top six drivers in the championship standings, it could happen again. Chasers can’t help but stew about getting wins and bonus points, which may again be deciding factors at season’s end.

Will Regan Smith get a ride for 2013?

Smith, who has been with Furniture Row Racing since 2009, finished 17th at Dover. In 160 Sprint Cup starts, Smith has one win, two top 5s and seven top 10s, with most of those earned during the 2011 season. After the recent announcement that Kurt Busch takes the wheel of the No. 78 car at Charlotte, Smith has only one more race to showcase his skills to potential employers.

With his strong run at Dover, is Jeff Gordon back in contention?

Gordon started seventh and ran in the top five most of the event. He has gained in the standings since crashing at Chicago, where he finished 35th. But Gordon is still 48 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

Talladega is next and Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins, but his record doesn’t negate the risk of getting wrecked. To have a shot, the four-time champ needs a combination of consistent, strong runs and bad luck for the nine guys ahead of him in points.

What caused a track like Dover to have a race decided by fuel mileage?

Steep banking, dramatic drop-offs in the turns and a concrete surface ought to make for exciting racing for drivers and fans. But the AAA 400 was a polite race with long green runs and minimal contact between racecars. Perhaps the large number of cars going a lap down early on played a role, putting lapped cars between the front-runners. Or maybe drivers were being cautious. Whatever the reason, it led to a race decided by the gas tank, not full-throttle racing, and that’s a bummer.
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Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, support editor & media rep for Skirts and Scuffs. She writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandscuffs.com.

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