After arriving in summer-like weather when the Sprint Cup tour arrived at Dover, Delaware on Thursday, the chill of autumn set in Sunday morning as if foretelling what would lie ahead. When the days turn shorter than the nights, it’s time for Jimmie Johnson to turn out the lights. He did just that taking the pole, leading the most laps, and winning the 400 lap race, second in the Chase for the Championship. Points leader, Denny Hamlin’s car failed to run as good as his mouth but still managed a top ten finish, but now clings to a 35 point lead.
Much attention would focus on Richard Childress racing after 150 points were stripped from the #33 team, essentially eliminating Clint Bowyer’s shot at the trophy. One team prospered, the other two failed. Jeff Burton raced a brilliant race starting 27th and finished second. Kevin Harvick stuck up for his team banging fenders with Denny Hamlin who blasted the RCR cadre as cheaters in the media. NASCAR gave Harvick a stern dressing down after his taunts against Hamlin. Harvick could only manage a 15th place finish, not the kind of effort that builds momentum toward securing a shot at the championship. Finally, the team that received the penalty, Clint Bowyer’s #33, seemed shell-shocked in today’s competition finishing in a distant 25th place.
Here’s a summary of how the Chase contestants finished with their new points standings shown in parenthesis.
1 – Jimmie Johnson, 1st (2nd)
2 – Jeff Burton, 2nd (7th)
3 – Kurt Busch, 4th (4th)
4 – Carl Edwards, 5th (6th)
5 – Kyle Busch, 6th (3rd)
6 – Denny Hamlin, 9th (1st)
7 – Jeff Gordon, 11th (8th)
8 – Kevin Harvick, 15th (5th)
9 – Matt Kenseth, 18th (11th)
10 – Greg Biffle, 19th (9th)
11 – Tony Stewart, 21st (10th)
12 – Clint Bowyer, 25th (12th)
Any chance of championship glory would appear remote for the following drivers given their current points deficit: Greg Biffle, -140, Tony Stewart, -162, Matt Kenseth, -165, and Clint Bowyer, pending his appeal, -235.
For drivers outside the chase, Joey Logano was one driver who could go home happy with a 3rd place finish. His ability to finish in the top five short of winning demonstrates his maturing as a driver. Paul Menard finished 9th and A.J. Allmendinger who lead substantial laps early in the race before tire trouble and an ill-timed caution put him behind finished 10th. Mark Martin had a solid day but tailed of to 12th. Drivers whose contract status beyond this year is uncertain are auditioning for their future in the sport as there were several entries today that had no business on the track whatsoever showing up and collecting their earnings without any intention to compete not even fielding full pit crews.
The number of quitters was up to eight this week. Earnings for today’s race have not been posted, but comparably positioned teams ripped off sums of around $76,000 for their lack of effort in the spring Dover race. Last week at Loudon, they drew around $69,000 per entry. The cost to NASCAR has been over ONE MILLION dollars for the last two races, Dover and Loudon, that’s millions over the course of an entire season. Regardless of who contributes to the purse for each race, the competitive efforts are getting ripped of and so are the fans. What is any less exciting if races fielded perhaps 35 to 37 entries rather than letting bogus entries provide a pretty parade of 43 cars at the beginning. Okay, 43 is a magic number for NASCAR for it represents the king’s riches, the legendary Richard Petty’s car #. What does this mean to the National Guard sponsor for the #26 car that did not qualify but intended to compete for the entire race? While a fan can feel sympathy for Joe Nemechek and his mom who lost John Nemechek to the sport due to an accident in the truck series at Homestead in 1997, can it be any more obvious that John’s success as a driver at the highest level is behind him? He still fields a competitive Nationwide team where he still could be a top ten driver. One has to wonder what Phil Parsons and the Prism operation is attempting to accomplish with two teams entered at each event. It appears that the media and NASCAR are downplaying the situation as if they hope it will just right itself, but the hard truth is having this clutter at the bottom of the field makes it all the more difficult for fledgling teams scrapping together a budget and team to attempt to break into the sport more difficult because as they attempt to grow as an operation must contend with these rip-off operations who could deny them a spot in the race.