The Monster Mile, aka Dover International Raceway, is a unique place. On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson added his own flair to the one mile concrete oval in a way unlike we’ve seen before.
We’ve become accustomed to watching Johnson dominate Dover. Once again, he did just that en route to his second win of 2012. The Emperor led a race-high 289 of a possible 400 laps to earn his seventh trip to Victory Lane at The Monster Mile, tying him with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most wins at Dover. The victory is also Johnson’s 57th of his career, eighth most in NASCA Sprint Cup history.
While those statistics are staggering, the highlight of Sunday’s race may have been Johnson’s accessory. The sponsor for the 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wasn’t the usual Lowe’s or Kobalt Tools. Instead, the movie Madagascar 3 adorned the 48 and Johnson’s fire suit. The movie, which opens Friday, has been showing trailers with one of it’s stars, the zebra voiced by Chris Rock with a rainbow afro wig. Johnson appeared at pre-race driver introductions with a similar wig on his head, and of course, he put the wig back on for the Victory Lane celebration.
The colorful hair and fun, easy-going attitude of Johnson and the entire 48 team was great to see for fans. For competitors it should be seen as a warning. The 48 is in championship form and a serious threat to win an unprecedented sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup in seven years.
A Better Car?
It’s hard to imagine, especially if you didn’t watch the race and only read the words above, that any team was better than the 48 yesterday. In reality, there likely was. Johnson’s teammate, Jeff Gordon only led 60 laps, but his 24 DuPont Chevrolet was a beast. After starting 14th, Gordon drove straight to the Top 5 and eventually took the lead form Johnson. Then, it happened again. Another problem for the 24 forced Gordon to pit. A loose wheel led to the 24 being two laps down.
However, Gordon’s car was so strong that he regained his lost laps and the lead. With a little bit of good luck, the 24 had a great chance to win the race due to the way its pit strategy evolved and its fast lap times. As it has done all year, bad luck struck Gordon, as a debris caution ruined any chance to prove the 24 was better than the 48. Gordon salvaged a 13th place finish, but wasn’t able to make up many point in the overall Sprint Cup standings.
Wins are the only way Gordon makes the Chase For The Sprint Cup, and more race results like Dover will prevent that from happening. This continues to be Gordon’s worst season of his career despite having tremendous cars. This really needs to be the Summer Of Jeff for the 24. Gordon will need at least three wins in the next fourteen races to make The Chase.
Up In Smoke
Unlike most of the races this year, there were multiple cautions including an early one that brought out a twenty minute Red Flag. Nine laps into the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks, the biggest wreck of the year occurred. Landon Cassill got loose, Tony Stewart, who was right on his bumper, checked up and Regan Smith spun Smoke. That led to a 13 car pile-up and continued Stewart’s recent troubles. Smoke was able to return to the race, but his Mobil 1 Chevrolet finished 25th, 69 laps down.
I was anxious to watch Stewart’s interview after the wreck. I expected him to blow up at Smith for causing the wreck. To my surprise, Smoke was calm and didn’t blame Smith. Stewart said that the wreck wasn’t Smith’s fault, and he and Cassill “were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
There were a total of seven cautions and four drivers watched their engines go up in smoke. Both Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, Jeff Burton and David Reutimann all went to the garage before the Checkered Flag flew.
Plenty Of Seats
Dover is a greta place to watch a race. The entire one mile track can be seen from virtually any seat. Unfortunately, the economy kept many people at home. It appeared to me that half of the stands were empty. There were even multiple tarps covering many of the seats. Those were good for the advertisers that had their logos displayed on them, but not good for Dover’s revenue.
- With an 11th place finish, Greg Biffle maintains the Sprint Cup points lead by 1 over his teammate Matt Kenseth.
- Carl Edwards dropped out of the Top 10 due to a blown right front tire causing him to crash and finish in 26th place.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up to 3rd in points, 10 behind Biffle.
- Brad Keselowski is now 5 points out of the Top 10. That’s a welcome sign for Gordon and other drivers hoping to gain a Wild Card birth,as Keselowski has two wins.
- Aric Almirola finished in 6th place. He is 17th in points.
The Sprint Cup series heads to Pocono Raceway in the mountains of Pennsylvania next Sunday. The Green Flag will drop around 1:15 ET. Coverage for the race will be on TNT. This begins the network’s six-week summer series of covering the Sprint Cup races (The Nationwide Series will remain on ESPN/ESPN2/ABC).