Larry McReynolds: Non-chase drivers have big impact at Dover.
By Larry McReynoldsFoxSports
To me, Sunday’s race was kind of a typical Dover race. We had five cautions, but we had some long green-flag runs that equated to a couple of sets of green-flag pit stops.
The three big storylines that I took out of it:
1. We had a driver that led more than 300 laps of this race. If you look at the first eight years of the Chase, a Chase driver always won the Dover race. But it almost looked like Sunday we might have been headed to a non-Chase driver winning here with Kyle Busch. He led 302 laps, but unfortunately fuel mileage became a player at the end with the next-to-last caution coming with 92 laps to go and his team could not even come close to making it.
I think if they’d been fairly close, they would have rolled the dice. What do you really have to lose if you’re not a Chase driver? But he had to hit pit road with 11 laps to go, and the guy that seems to be the best at saving fuel and the team that seems to do the best job of getting the best fuel mileage, they win the race.
2. To me, a defining moment of this race was when that first caution came out on Lap 69 for debris off of J.J. Yeley’s No. 36 car. We were about two-thirds of the way through green-flag pit stops and the caution waves and we only have six drivers on the lead lap. We had a ton of drivers that were two laps down because they had just made a green-flag pit stop. It’s hard to make a green-flag pit stop at Dover and not go two laps down, and the only way these guys were able to get their laps back was by virtue of the wave-around and then, one by one, again not having a ton of cautions, but one by one getting the free pass. So when you look at Mark Martin, who finished third, he got the free pass. Carl Edwards, who finished fifth, took the wave-around or got the free pass. Martin Truex Jr., who finished sixth, got the free pass. So obviously the free pass and the wave-around played a pretty major role in this race today.
It was certainly a typical Dover race. I’m not sure that caution that burnt a tremendous amount of drivers was a game-changer with respect to who won the race, as I think we still had the best drivers up there battling for the lead at the end. But then, of course, fuel mileage definitely came into play and made some drivers have to pit, like Busch and Denny Hamlin, and made some drivers really have to slow their pace down, like Jimmie Johnson.
3. These non-Chase drivers aren’t going out without a fight.
Martin qualified 26th, which was actually a pretty big surprise, and he actually got the free pass one time and finished third. That No. 55 team of Michael Waltrip Racing just continues to amaze me with the fact that crew chief Rodney Childers and that group are working with three different drivers and just continuing to click these top finishes off. They had a great run last week with Brian Vickers, and then they’re going to have Michael Waltrip at Talladega. Any time you put Waltrip in a car at a restrictor-plate race, you know you can be a contender and certainly have the potential to go to Victory Lane.
And then Joey Logano finished 10th. That’s his third consecutive top-10 finish in these Chase races, so we’re still seeing, even though it’s been all about these Chase drivers going to Victory Lane, we’re still seeing some non-Chase racers make a little bit of noise. One of them almost made a lot of noise Sunday, and that was Busch.