Johnson capitalizes on Earnhardt Jr. miscue to win at Dover
Dover — Week 3 of the NASCAR’s version of postseason, The Chase for the Sprint Cup, came to Dover Downs Sept. 27-29 with the K & N Pro Series East Drive Sober 150 Friday, the Nationwide 5-Hour Energy 200 Saturday and Sunday’s AAA 400.
The weekend began with a bang with Dale Earnhardt Jr. capturing the Coors Light Pole award Friday, setting a blistering pace of 161.849 mph for a new track record, and ended with Jimmie Johnson's record-breaking eighth Sprint Cup victory at Dover. The win was his fifth this season and 65th of his stellar career. Points leader Matt Kenseth was quickest in the first practice prior to qualifying, but Johnson managed to move into second place in the chase, only eight points behind Kenseth, who's won the first two chase races.
What many hoped would be the end of Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak turned into another pit road disappointment for the sport’s most popular driver and a familiar finish at the Monster Mile for race winner Jimmie Johnson. Johnson loves this time of year and racing at Dover, as he led 243 laps and once again tamed what turned out to be a friendlier-than-usual monster this weekend. He held on for a close 0.446-second win over Earnhardt Jr. after a late-race two-tire pit stop kept the five-time champ atop the leaderboard and in clean air.
For the first time since 1971, and surely to the chagrin of many fans, the race was completed without any wrecks. Whether a product of the Gen6 car, better drivers, or simply Sunday’s racing at Dover, the incident-free race led to some of the longest green flag runs of the season. The four cautions were for either oil or debris.
On an otherwise somewhat uneventful day, we should reflect on the names that Johnson passed on the Dover victory list and what it meant to Johnson. Johnson acknowledged the record is special and an accomplishment to pass and be mentioned with the likes of seven-time Sprint Cup Champion Richard Petty and racing legend Bobby Allison.
Earnhardt Jr. took the green flag at the start of the race and jumped to an early lead, exchanging the lead with Kenseth before the first caution on lap 38. After racing resumed, Earnhardt once again regained the lead by overtaking Ryan Newman and took off to a commanding edge. With more than a six-second lead on the track and with green flag pits stops occurring, on lap 117 perhaps the most critical occurrence of the day happened when Junior made a crucial mistake, missing pit road and potentially costing him a much-sought-after victory. Dover is notorious for its difficult pit road entry, which has bitten others over the years.
During the same round of stops, Johnson had a great pit stop to improve his chances for the day. Kenseth took advantage of the miscue to take the lead for a short time. Junior cycled back to eighth spot and had to work his way back toward the front of the field, which he did. Pit road has been Junior’s occasional nemesis throughout his career. This time, it may have cost him a win.
Rounding out the top five finishers were Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch. Points leader Kenseth’s advantage fell to eight over Johnson, 12 over Kyle Busch in third and 39 over Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick in a tie for fourth.
Track attendance may be down compared to years past, but if you have not been to the race track lately for a NASCAR event, you should try the experience. There are likely more things for kids (and adults) to do at the track than anywhere else in the state on race weekend in the fall. Each time in the spring and fall, my 4-year-old daughter and I did not have enough time to do everything we could have. She was able to experience the thrill (scare?) of a zip line as well as enjoy many of the other kids' attractions that are located in the Monster Fun Zone, such as a rock climbing wall, moon bounce, Lightning McQueen, remote-control car races, slides, face painting, inflated boot camp obstacle course, awesome displays of military equipment and more. The Monster Fun Zone is set up outside of Turn 4, just beyond the Miles the Monster statue and near the skybox parking. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays race weekend.
18-year-old wins Drive Sober 150
Friday evening’s Drive Sober 150 race, sponsored by the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, was the second-to-last race of the season for the K & N Pro Series East. The No. 13 of 18-year old Austin Hill from Winston, Ga., captured the victory over local and fan favorite C.J. Faison of Seaford after he dominated most of the first 100 laps or so of the race. Late-race problems led to a disappointing 24th-place finish.
Logano wins fourth straight at Dover
During the early part of Saturday’s Nationwide race, it appeared the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch might run away with the race. That is, until the No. 22 of pole-sitter Joey Logano decided to turn the tables for his fourth consecutive victory at the Monster Mile in the Nationwide Series, an impressive feat never accomplished at Dover on any of NASCAR’s series. Logano celebrated with a burnout along the front stretch to the delight of the crowd.
Busch was relegated to an eighth-place finish, primarily due to an off-sequence pit strategy created by not stopping during the first two cautions early in the race. Unlikely extended green flag runs, which were the theme of the weekend, left Busch having to pit and lose track position, having to pit one extra time. It was a predetermined race strategy the team stuck to that did not pay off.
The top five finishers behind Logano were the up-and-coming No. 32 Kyle Larson, No. 33 Kevin Harvick, No. 20 Brian Vickers and No. 11 Elliot Sadler.