Chase battle tightens at Dover

BY Larry McReynolds • October 3, 2011

What was interesting about Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway, to me, was that it didn’t boil down to fuel-mileage strategy. There were no concerns of, "Can he make it? Will he not make it?"

Dover was the first true, hardcore, get-out-there-and-race-to-the-checkered-flag event we’ve had in the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Because of the way the cautions fell Sunday, we were able to see these drivers get up on that wheel and get after it without worrying about conserving fuel.

You heard me say last week that outside of the races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway, which we consider wild-card races because anything and everything can happen there, that Dover was going to be a game-changing race for the points. We pretty much all knew we weren’t going to leave Dover with everything being simply the status quo.

Unfortunately for Tony Stewart, he had a 16-point swing in the points Sunday. He started the race seven points in the lead, but now finds himself nine points out. What has to be a concern is the pattern I have been seeing developing with Tony. It seems that since we went to this new car, the concrete tracks of Dover and Bristol Motor Speedway have been a struggle for Tony.

Dover has been tough for him. Bristol is the same story. He was terrible there both races this year. The other track that has a little bit of concrete, Martinsville, is another track he struggled at earlier this year. So that has to be a major concern.

Now with three races in the books and seven races to go in the 2011 Chase, we have a nine-driver race for the championship. These nine guys are only separated by 19 points. That’s really unbelievable and actually a tribute to NASCAR for instituting this new points system in 2011. I believe these points are going to change all the way to the very end, with different players having a say in the finish.

Sunday’s top two finishers – Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson – desperately needed those top finishes. This was Kurt’s first win on an oval track since May of last year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So that was huge for the No. 22 Penske Racing team in more ways than one. Jimmie needed a good run as well and got it. I think that was a statement race for the No. 48 team.

Now we all know Jimmie’s incredible record at Dover, and he showed why again Sunday. Jimmie led 157 laps and his second-place finish moved him to only 13 points out of first place in the Chase.

So now that team will have a ton of momentum going its way into Kansas. Trust me, the last thing the competition wants is Jimmie Johnson on a roll.

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