I bid you welcome, gentle readers, and a cordial “Hi Y’all” to the one that drew the lucky straw at NASCAR and was assigned to read us on this fine day. It’s only Monday as I pull up to this well-used keyboard and begin to assemble a few coherent thoughts on the race at Dover. It will no doubt be Wednesday before that is accomplished. One of the first words I wrote to a friend shortly after the Dover race blessedly ended was “Interesting.” And that it was!
Jimmie Johnson started on the pole, but was forced to start last on the field owing to a gear change. He led a total of 7 laps on the day, and took the lead for a final time on a restart on lap 405. (We’ll get back to that; have no fear)
Your scribe must have experienced a clairvoyant moment when choosing last week’s topic. It was a Lady in Black rundown of the spring Dover race in 2004. She described it as a wreck-strewn disaster that ended in total chaos because NASCAR at that time started cars that had been caught in the pits or had just visited there on green-flag stops on what they called the “Tail end of the lead lap”, but restarted them directly in front of the leader! That race had 11 cautions. This week’s race scored 15, with the final one coming on lap 406… of a 400-mile race on a 1-mile track… and similar to the one I told about last week, this one too ended in chaos.
Among a long list of who spun into whom, probably the most spectacular in the early going was when Kurt Busch got loose on a restart and made a right hand turn into Brad Keselowski, taking the Deuce out of contention for the second week in a row. Kurt’s own day would be shortened some time later. With 15 cautions, we won’t be reliving them individually. I’m sure there are videos available and once declared “Official”, NASCAR has taken to putting the full video on YouTube. I like that. See, they do have a friendly side… at times.
Another “Interesting” thing was that of 14 cautions that warranted a Lucky Dog, over 1/3 or 5 of them gave the Award to Jeffrey Earnhardt… and he still finished 6 laps down to the leaders. In last week’s piece, it was Kirk Shelmerdine who received multiple Lucky Dog promotions… and did so having only run 12 laps for each. Tell me again about that minimum speed thing! Lucky Dog is a rule I’ve never cared for but for the same 13 years, they keep hauling it back every year. In a perfect world, it should at least be modified in some way… if a driver lost a lap through no fault of his own, then apply the Lucky Dog. If he’s been passed by the leaders while at speed on the track, it shouldn’t apply. For as long as it’s been here, this scribe has begged for a sensible limit as to how many times the same driver is eligible to receive it… maybe twice? I guess they’ll give it away every 12 laps to the same guy, and if there’s a caution every 12 laps, then so be it. I know we don’t have cautions every 12 laps as a rule, but we came very close to that at Indy in 2008 when Goodyear invented the “dusty tire”, which put down a white dust instead of black rubber and lasted for an average of 15 laps. I guess things like that happen, but should they?
More “Interesting” things came to pass as the race progressed. On one of the fairly early cautions, there was confusion, mayhem and an errant air-wrench in Kyle Busch’s pit. Jackman sees tire changer hit all 5 lugs and drops the car. When the car drops, Kyle takes off like a scalded cat. All seems right… but wait… the rear tire changer has his hand in the tire well and was trying to adjust something. To my knowledge, we’ve never heard if his hand is still attached to his arm, but I do hope that is the case.
What he was trying to adjust was the air-wrench, which somehow wound up in reverse and instead of tightening the lug nuts, was undoing them. Kyle never made it all the way down pit road before that tire took off and came close to beating him back to the pits. His car sustained quite a bit of left rear fender damage as a result of having to drive back around on only three wheels. The one thing we were spared was Darrell Waltrip breaking into his now infamous rendition of “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Loose Wheel.” The youngsters won’t get that one, but be grateful for that. Not everything about the “Good ol’ days” was all that good.
The entire race was strewn with exploding tires, usually but not entirely limited to the right front Goodyear. When that happens, accusations are typical… teams blame Goodyear and Goodyear blames their skewed set-ups and too low air pressure. Probably 50-50 there, but it sure does make for a lot of laps run under yellow… 72 in this race.
They say that all good things must come to an end, but this one just didn’t want to end that soon. With Kyle Larson enjoying more than a 2-second lead over the rest of the field, David Ragan’s right front chose lap 398 to go Boom and David was hard into the SAFER barrier. That of course, would precipitate a re-bunching of the field and “Overtime”, formerly known as Green/White/Checkers.
Cleanup lasted through lap 404, and so it was that they took the green on lap 405, and things got really “Interesting” in a hurry. Larson, who chose to start on the outside, didn’t get the start that Jimmie Johnson got, but wished he had. They made it back to the white flag, with Speedy-Dry aka kitty litter flying everywhere, but never saw the checkers. Behind the leaders, young Ty Dillon just flat lost it and managed to erase most of the field before they were done wreckin. Naturally, that wreck played havoc with the finishing order, leaving a lot of really good cars far down the page from where they’d been running just a moment before.
Enter another “rule” made to further explain another “rule” that shouldn’t exist in the first place. The first and seemingly most important thing amidst all that mess was whether or not the leader had made it past the “Overtime line” situated in the middle of the backstretch. Nope, I’m not even going to try to explain all that to you because quite frankly, I don’t understand it myself. What I do understand is that all those rules are to insure that no race ends under caution. This race did so anyway. “Interesting!” Maybe we need some more rules!
The winner, as we already saw earlier, was Jimmie Johnson, and this win tied him in CUP wins with his childhood hero, Cale Yarborough at 83. One more will tie him with Ol’ DW at 84 and a second win will tie him with Bobby Allison at 85. Never mind what the NASCAR records show. I’m right; they’re wrong. Still… I was at North Wilkesboro in the spring of 1990. The record books say that Brett Bodine won that race. After a colossal 45-minute red flag for bookkeeping, NASCAR still got it wrong and everyone there that day knows it. DW actually won that race, so if all were right with the world and NASCAR, they’d still be tied, not at 84, but at 85. Interesting!
Oh, and just a quick sideline… another “Interesting” this week was that no one “dropped” a mic this week during post-race press interviews. Kyle Larson was his usual sweet self, though he had to be sorely disappointed when such a huge lead was taken suddenly away, almost within sight of the checkers. I guess no one wants to interview a 16th place finisher. So be it.
Harkening back to the “Big One” at Dover, those involved in it include but are not limited to Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, A.J. Allmendinger, Cole Whitt, Erik Jones, Michael McDowell and of course, Ty Dillon. As the video shows, several of those sustained race-ending damage and had to be scraped up off the concrete and placed on a wrecker. Two races, 13 years apart, and nothing has changed except that we now have more rules… and more rules… and more rules…
One way to end this sort of madness, and to this scribe’s way of thinking, the best way, is to just do away with “Overtime.” Big Bill, and his namesake son had a mantra. The race runs the advertised distance, barring divine intervention, such as rain or snow. Even then, it has to be past the half-way point to be declared a final race. This race was advertised as a 400-mile race and no matter what color flag is waving, at 400 miles, the checkers fly. If they share the stage with the yellow flag, so be it. 400 miles ends the race.
No one came to the race expecting a marathon. Dover has been shortened from a grueling endurance test for both man and machine of 500 miles. 400 miles was an act of kindness and should be enough! For being billed as the “Best in the world” by the talking heads on TV, these drivers “should” be able to handle a restart, but they prove time and time again that is not the case. Rather than bunch those cars up one more time just to see the mayhem “Moment”, let the race end the way it always did… at the advertised distance… until that fateful year of 2004, when ALL the rules changed so radically.
Allow me to put it in the language currently spoken in these parts… It does not enhance a race to have a moment that results in over a quarter of the field being encumbered and unable to finish. That has to make the stakeholders behind all those crippled cars very unhappy; perhaps even disgruntled. As I said in the beginning, the race was “Interesting.” I never said it was good or bad; merely “Interesting.”
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, which will be another in the series we’ve been watching, with Stars of the 1950s bringing us wonderful songs and sweet memories of another time. I promise, for every Country Music fan, this will be far more than just “Interesting.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!