After Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, the regular season of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is now halfway over. The 400-lap event on the one-mile concrete oval once again provided some of the best racing of the year, so without further ado, here are five of the top storylines leaving the Monster Mile.
Jimmie Johnson Just Keeps Rewriting the Record Books
Though Kyle Larson and Martin Truex, Jr. dominated the majority of the race at Dover, it was Johnson that came out on top when the checkered flag flew. With Sunday’s win, Johnson now has 11 wins at the track, adding to the record that he already holds at Dover. In addition, Johnson tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough at 83 wins on the all-time wins list and he now has his sights set on other Hall of Fame drivers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, who both have 84 wins each.
At this point, it is almost an inevitability that Johnson will surpass those two drivers, with Jeff Gordon’s career wins mark of 93 being the next target for the seven-time champion and his No. 48 team.
“To be here and tie him at 83 wins is amazing,” said Johnson. “We just got the tribute helmet. I wasn’t sure how quickly we’d be, or if we’d be able to go there, and get it done. But, Cale, you’re the man. Thank you for all you have done for our sport.”
“It was a huge honor to tie him with three consecutive championships a few years back and then to be here at 83 wins and a day where things played out in such an awkward and weird fashion just very happy that we’ve got it done. To my 83 wins, I’m just so proud that it’s come with one owner, one sponsor, one manufacturer, one crew chief, one team, this is a very special journey this whole Hendrick Lowe’s team has been on.”
Dover Provides Great Racing Once Again
With Dover being a concrete track and VHT being used on the other concrete track on the circuit, Bristol, and last week at Charlotte, there was a rumor that the track was considering using the traction compound at Dover for this weekend’s race. It was ultimately decided to not use it, which proved to be the right decision as the combination of the low downforce package and the oldest concrete surface in NASCAR provided a fantastic race from start to finish, just as it has done over the past couple of years.
Drivers were able to race from top to bottom on the 24-degree banking and were slipping and sliding all over the place as a result of the reduced downforce, making the already demanding track even more of a challenge. For the most part, drivers were unable to get away from each other as well, allowing them to get up close and personal and use the ol’ chrome horn when needed, just as Truex did when moving Larson out of the way mid-way through Stage 1 to take the race lead.
“The conditions were really tough today,” said Johnson. “I think everybody struggled with balance, corner entry was very uncomfortable for the cars.”
“It really widened out in the second and third and fourth lanes came in, which I didn’t anticipate having. I thought we would all be chasing the bottom. I’ve won 10 races here chasing the bottom and won one kind of running the middle to the top here today. So, it was definitely a different day in the race car.”
Truex also noted how tough the conditions were on Sunday.
“I had a lot of fun out there today,” he said. “I can’t even tell you how challenging this track was with these cars and this aero package and all that. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I almost wrecked by myself, so it was a lot of fun. It was a challenge.”
Overtime Line Woes
While the race was action packed from beginning to end, the finish of the race left much to be desired and that hinged on the overtime line that was put in place last season. The line is designed to give drivers about a half-lap to get off to a clean start, with the next flag (yellow or checkered) ending the race.
Throughout its existence, the overtime line has yet to retain much excitement in the final laps of the race, rather creating a lackluster ending to an otherwise entertaining event.
With that being said, the time has come to take a hard look at the overtime line and determine whether it needs to be tweaked or scrapped altogether in favor of the old overtime system that we had prior to 2016.
Something needs to be done, or we’ll be stuck with more of these disappointing race endings in the future.
In his post-race Periscope session, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. agreed with the notion of changing the overtime rules.
“I kind of helped come up with that idea, so this is going to be kind of strange, but I think they should get rid of the overtime line at all the racetracks except for Daytona and Talladega,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think we should race it out everywhere. And no overtime line, just keep on doing green-white-checkereds until you get it right everywhere. And then at Daytona and Talladega, you probably can do something different.”
The Monster Mile Had a Monstrous Appetite
For the second year in a row, the spring race at Dover was highlighted by a multi-car crash. Last year, it was a late race crash involving Sunday’s winner Jimmie Johnson that caused a wreck on a restart and collected a total of 18 cars by the time it was over. This year, it was a multi-car crash in overtime that put an end to the race.
Ty Dillon, who was running in the top-five at the time, broke loose off of Turn 2 just after the restart, collecting nine cars in the melee.
In addition to the multi-car crash on lap 406, there were a total of 11 other cautions for crashes or spins throughout the race, most of which were a result of blown tires, cut tires, or just spinning out.
Several big names would find themselves out of the running early on, including Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and others.
Keselowski would reture to the garage immediately, while Stenhouse and Busch got their cars repaired only to have another tire failure laps later to cause even more damage to their cars and end their races at that point.
You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel
Comedian Ron White has a story he tells in his stand-up act about the wheel falling off of his vehicle after getting is serviced. Little did anyone know, White’s joke would come to life not once, but twice at Dover.
“The left rear wheel falls off. It falls off. It falls the **** off,” White recalls in his act.
Chase Briscoe would be the first to lose a wheel after leaving pit road too soon in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the same issues would befall polesitter Kyle Busch just 19 laps into Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Busch made his way down pit road for routine service, but that’s when everything went wrong for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Before any of the lug nuts were tightened on the left rear wheel tire, the Jackman dropped the jack, which was Busch’s signal to go, which he did. As expected, the wheel fell off of the car shortly after leaving pit road, forcing Busch to limp his Toyota back to pit road to get the wheel replaced and the damage incurred as a result fixed.
The team got Busch back on track without losing a lap and it looked like the damage to the left rear of his car wouldn’t hinder his performance at all as he quickly made his way back toward the front, even retaking the lead for a lap at lap 195.
While running 13th as the laps wound down, Busch felt he had a loose wheel, forcing him to pit road, which caused him to lose a couple of laps and he would finish the race in 16th place.
Though the 16th place finish was a disappointment for Busch after starting on pole, what may be coming for his No. 18 team could be even worse.
As a result of losing the wheel off of his car, his team could face a Level 3 penalty according to the NASCAR Rule Book, which could see crew chief Adam Stevens, as well as the tire carrier and tire changer suspended for a minimum of four weeks if NASCAR decides to enforce the rule.
NASCAR penalties are normally announced on Tuesday or Wednesday, so we’ll see if there are suspensions handed down from the sanctioning body at that time.