A race that featured a pothole ended with NASCAR’s most dominant driver going back to victory lane for his second straight victory. Jimmie Johnson earned his second win a row as he led 272 of the 400 laps run in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover.
Johnson has now won nine times at the Monster Mile, extending his record for having the most wins at the track. The win marks Johnson’s 68th career victory on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. On a restart with less than five laps to go, the No. 48 Chevrolet was able to hold off a hard charging Brad Keselowski for the win after passing Matt Kenseth who spun his tires on the restart.
“Our whole day, we were in a range and we were balanced pretty well, just couldn’t run that fast," Kenseth said in a post-race press conference. “If we tried running fast, we just couldn’t run that quickly. We just started off too tight and if we started out decently, we would be too loose at the end of a run. We were just trying to keep up with track position.”
"The first run or two, I didn't think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape," Johnson said. "It was an awesome racecar. The first run wasn't sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here.
However, the win did not come easy as the entire field was thrown a curve ball before the half-way point of the race.
Suddenly, a piece of debris went flying into the air. There was thought that it was a can at first, but conclusions came that one of the strangest incidents occurred.
Jamie McMurray was running 16th when his No. 1 car suddenly hit a piece of the track. As he was coming out of Turn 2, McMurray hit a piece of concrete which sent his Chevrolet into the wall on the backstretch. The race was red flagged as track officials worked on repairing the hole in Turn 2 which was approximately six inches according to team radios.
“We will do the best job that we can and see what we can get,” McMurray’s crew chief, Keith Rodden said after NASCAR wouldn’t enable them to work on the car during the red flag.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton said after the race that it was against the rules, but there has been exception to that specific rule in the past. Pemberton referenced the cable issue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013 as an example of when NASCAR would enable teams to work on cars under red flag conditions. Pemberton also stated that an epoxy-type solution was used to patch up the hole.
Besides having damage to the pavement, the cross-over bridge above the turn was also bruised in the incident. A piece of glass on the bridge’s outer part shattered as the concrete flew up into the air. The bridge is approximately 30 feet above the track surface according to a track spokes
Kevin Harvick stated that some guys were looking at that area on Saturday after the NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He noticed the track was coming up, but it was not worked on.
“I saw it this morning on the way to the driver's meeting," Johnson said over the radio to his crew during the red flag. "It was already coming up. I was wondering if they'd seen it."
The red flag lasted just over 22 minutes as a speedy-dry type of concrete was used to fill the hole.
As pit stops were about to start, Alex Bowman blew out a tire to throw out the first caution of the day, but A.J. Allmendinger attempted to short pit and was caught a lap down with just 25 cars on the lead lap after 65 laps.
Clint Bowyer was attempting to pass Kyle Busch in Turn 4 when he got into Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending him into the wall. He successfully got around Busch, but then he went right into the fence. After the wreck, Busch stalked Bowyer’s car during the caution, attempted to give him a tap, and then went into the garage with his beat up car. Busch rushed over to his motor home where he could not be reached for comment.
Allmendinger got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who then hit his teammate, Greg Biffle. The rear end of the No. 16 Ford was destroyed, and the entire right side of Stenhouse’s car had to be cut off in the garage after he hit the inside wall on the backstretch.
“I didn’t see it coming," Biffle said in the garage area. "They were about two and a half groove up on the top and it looked like A.J. tried to squeeze Ricky there. When he came up off the bottom, he turned right into me. It really sucks. We were racing hard there, and that’s what happens when you are back there.”
As he was leading the race, Harvick blew a right-side tire following the restart after the red flag. Bowman got into the will two more times following his initial wreck, and went to the garage after blowing a tire on Lap 221.
Ryan Newman was working his way inside of the top-10 after running approximately 20th for the first half of the race, but had a transmission failure which forced his No. 31 crew to go to the garage. Newman was mandated to a 31st-place finish.
Entering Dover, four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was leading the points standings. Gordon was contending for a top-five spot the majority of the day. Evidently, the handling gave out on the No. 24 Chevrolet, ending the day in 15th.
After the 400-mile race, Gordon relinquished the points lead to Kenseth, who has yet to win a race this year. Kenseth leads the standings by two markers over Gordon with Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson with Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top-five.
After 13 races, 10 drivers are all but locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Kenseth, Larson, Newman, Vickers, Menard and Dillon being the remaining six drivers who are high enough in points to race in the Chase as of now.
Here are some notables from the FedEx 400:
- Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five finish of the year at a non-restrictor plate track by crossing the stripe in the fourth position.
-Martin Truex Jr. recorded his best finish of the young season on Sunday afternoon by finishing in sixth.
-Tony Stewart made a hard charge for the lead late in the race, but after the late-race caution, Stewart fell back to the seventh position.
-Finishing 11th, Kyle Larson was the Rookie of the Race. Larson started at the rear of the field for an engine change, but sporadically made his way up through the field.
-Making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut – Brett Moffitt finished 22nd in the No. 66 Toyota Camry for Identity Ventures Racing.
-Danica Patrick finished 23rd on Sunday – her best career finish in four starts at Dover.
-After experiencing fuel pickup issues throughout the day, David Gilliland ended the day in 29th.
-Blake Koch recorded a career-best finish of 30th in the No. 32 Ford. Making his fourth Sprint Cup Series start, Koch outran his previous best finish of 35th during this year’s Coca-Cola 600 where he finished 35th.
-J.J. Yeley had his third engine failure for the third consecutive time this year.
-Paul Menard earned his seventh top-10 of the season with a 10th-place finish at Dover. Menard's career-best years in 2012 and 2013 consisted of nine top-10s each.
NASCAR's Newest Rivalry - Brad Keselowski vs. Matt Kenseth
Short tracks always get tempers flaring. Matt Kenseth knows that a little too well by now. A few years ago, Jeff Gordon yanked him by the collar at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Now, Kenseth has gotten into trouble with NASCAR's most outspoken driver, Brad Keselowski.
On a night where tires were blowing, flames were soaring out of cars and tempers were flaring like Bugs Bunny against Elmer Fudd - but not in such a humorous fashion, Kenseth and Keselowski started the first of possibly many wars to come.
Kenseth and Keselowski were battling for the lead with a handful of laps remaining during Saturday evening's running of the Toyota Owner's 400 at the Richmond International Raceway. Keselowski went to pass Kenseth, but was seemingly blocked by the driver of the No. 20 Toyota. After racing side-by-side for slightly over a lap, Keselowski went for the lead off of Turn Four, but his car became extremely loose. This lead to Keselowski's teammate, Joey Logano, going under the duo battling for the front spot, and was able to hold onto the lead to win his second race of the year.
"I had a shot at winning the race, and I felt like he ran me up the track," Keselowski said after the race. "You make a move like that when you are going to win the race, not when you are just keeping someone else from winning a race.
Proceeding the "block," Keselowski tapped Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing car multiple times in the closing laps, but nothing too serious. However, once the checkered flag waved, chaos erupted between the two. Even though no fists were thrown like Marcos Ambrose's epic punch which connected with Casey Mears' face, the two have been fighting words - something that might come into play as the season continues.
When the drivers were heading to pit road as the race concluded, Keselowski took his frustration out on Kenseth's car, starting a brand new rivalry. Keselowski got into Kenseth on the cool-down lap, causing a domino effect with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger each hitting Kenseth's rear bumper. Kenseth sits second in the points standings while Keselowski is seventh, but also has a win which should lock him into NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
Now, NASCAR has their newest rivalry. The two have completely different personalities, and it does not appear they want to make amends anytime soon. In the days since the hectic race, the two drivers have hit to social media to do some venting.
Looking back, I needed some time after the race 2 cool off. Funny how much clearer the picture can be when emotion is removed #ijustwannawin— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 27, 2014
The 120th person to RT this that's NOT named Brad, will win my shades from Richmond. #winmattsmojo— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) April 28, 2014
Someone should have told Kenseth fans that the race was during the evening.
Keselowski then Tweeted out this message: "Huge thank you to gargoyles for giving me glasses so great I don't want to give them away," with a picture of his rather nice pair of sunglasses.
Prior to this, Joe Gibbs Racing Tweeted out a picture of Kenseth's damaged car:
@JoeGibbsRacing seems their was a lot of extra work after Daytona 500 practice this year too.— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 28, 2014
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the two drivers act on their budding rivalry. In the midst of a season where ratings have decreased compared to 2013, a rivalry between two championship contenders can certainly bring back some interest into NASCAR.
Kenseth Has Quiet Day, Finished 7th
Matt Kenseth and his No. 18 GameStop/Afterglow team traveled to Chicagoland Speedway for Kenseth’s first Nationwide Series start at the 1.5-mile track since 2008. Kenseth began the race from 18th and was able to earn a seventh-place finish Saturday afternoon after fighting challenging handling conditions.
Kenseth rolled off 18th to start Saturday’s Dollar General 300. The GameStop/Afterglow Toyota was stuck in 17th back in traffic until the first caution came on lap 24 after the No. 87 spun. Kenseth radioed in to crew chief Matt Lucas that the No. 18 was loose in and then tight in and plowing through the center of the corners. Lucas called his driver into the pits for four tires, fuel, and a series of wedge adjustments. The stop set up Kenseth to restart 19th when the field returned to green on lap 29.
Over the course of the next run, Kenseth drove up to 13th but told his team that although the changes had helped to make the car a little better, the GameStop/Afterglow Toyota was still fighting the same problems it had earlier. Being tight in the center and off was the biggest challenge for Kenseth; his Toyota machine was getting tighter and tighter as the run went on.
Green-flag pit stops cycled through the field starting around lap 73. Lucas opted to pit on lap 82 for four tires, fuel, and another wedge adjustment. The changes were all targeted to help free up the middle and exit of the No. 18. A caution for debris came shortly after the stop and allowed the team to make one more series of adjustments under yellow on lap 110.
Kenseth set up to restart 11th after teams took varying strategies in the pits under the caution. After the the restart on lap 113, Kenseth made quick work of the field ahead of him and drove into third on lap 125. Despite holding on to a top-three position, Kenseth told his team that the GameStop/Afterglow Toyota started the runs loose in and off, then got tighter as the runs went on. A caution on lap 158 allowed the team the opportunity to pit for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment.
The GameStop/Afterglow Toyota restarted fifth, but several cautions over the next 20 laps found Kenseth stuck three- and four-wide on restarts. The No. 18 was shuffled back to seventh, which is where Kenseth finished when the field took the checkered flag at the end of 200 laps.
Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, took home the trophy Saturday earning the win in the Dollar General 300, while Joey Logano and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top-three finishers.
Hats Off to NASCAR
Sunday Night’s Coke 600 had to be one of the most unusual races NASCAR has had in a very long time. The most bazaar incident came on lap 126 when a cable holding up the SkyCam broke and fell onto the track and into the stands. Before anyone knew what had happened, race leader Kyle Busch ran over it and sent it flying. He and many others ran over portions of the cable damaging their cars.
NASCAR red flagged the race and brought the cars down pit road. Dozens of NASCAR Officials surrounded the cars to assess the damage and counted a total of 19 of them that had visible damage from the flying cable; the worst being on the No18 of Busch, the No55 of Mark Martin and the No9 of Marcos Ambrose.
After assessing the damage and giving officials enough time to clean the cable up off of the track, NASCAR had the teams fire the engines and make a trip around the track and back to pit road. This time, they sent them to their pit boxes and did something very unprecedented for NASCAR. They gave the teams 15 minutes to work on their cars.
That gave teams like Martin, Ambrose and Busch, who had to replace the right front and side of his car, 15 minutes to do so and other teams with little or no damage 15 minutes of time to make changes. NASCAR officials surrounded each and every car on pit road and monitored each team. It was organized chaos.
After the 15 minutes were up, the grid was reset and no driver lost his or her spot from before the caution and the race was restarted. Teams, drivers and fans were still scratching their heads wondering, what in the world just happened here?
Did NASCAR handle this bazaar situation correctly? I believe they did. The damage to the race cars had nothing to do with an on-track incident and it would have been unfair to punish the drivers with significant damage by sending them to the back of the pack after making repairs or possibly to the garage.
NASCAR handled this odd situation the best they could and since we usually criticize them and their decisions, I think we should commend them on a job well done. Listening and reading to drivers comments after the race, many agree that NASCAR did it the right way.
“Put them back into position on the same tires, open pit road, and then go ahead and pit,” Matt Kenseth said. “It just turned into a free-for-all. There were some crews with 15 people around the cars, and there was no way an official could have possibly seen what they were working on. But that was nice that the guys got to fix their damage, because it was certainly no fault of their own."
“NASCAR did a great job of actually handling a crisis there because we were hard-done by and they gave us our laps back and we were able to stay in the race and duke it out,” Ambrose said after the race.
It wasn’t just cars that sustained damage. In a statement released, 10 fans were also treated for injuries from the cable falling, three of whom were taken to local hospitals. All were treated and released.
The use of the camera has been suspended indefinitely and an investigation into what caused the failure has begun.
So hats off to those NASCAR Officials who made the call after this bazaar incident and also those who oversaw the happening on pit road; you definitely made the best out of an unforeseen situation.