Qualifying for Sunday’s AAA400 Sprint Cup race at Dover produced a starting line-up with an entirely different look to last week’s at Loudon. Jimmie Johnson who seven days ago started in a lowly 26th spot will have the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in the number one position as the cars roll to the green flag tomorrow. Last week they wondered whether his attempt to secure a record breaking fifth consecutive title had stumbled at the first race but now the other drivers must be fearing the JJ steamroller has started in earnest.
Another high climber this week is A J Allmendinger who improved his qualifying position by a whopping 27 spots to start alongside Johnson. A J is the highest of four Fords to make the top ten at a track that has always suited them. The following row is a Toyota lock-out with Martin Truex Jr just pipping Chase championship leader Denny Hamlin by five thousandths of a second. Third row sees Juan Pablo Montoya 29 places above his qualifying position at Loudon in the Target Chevrolet along side Greg Biffle in the number 16 Roush Fenway run 3M Ford. The top ten is completed by Jamie Mc Murray, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Carl Edwards.
Sprint Cup Chase drivers outside the top ten include Kyle Busch in 11th, Matt Kenseth 14th, Jeff Gordon 15th, Clint Bowyer – highest placed of the RCR cars – 24th, Tony Stewart 25th, Jeff Burton 27th and Kevin Harvick for the second week running giving himself a hard race ahead of him as he qualifies in a lowly 33rd – just two spots higher than he managed seven days ago.
Four of The Chase twelve are starting in the second half of the field and have it all to do if they are to stay in the fight and not give Hamlin the chance to extend his 45 point lead. And whilst Jimmie Johnson starts 92 points in arrears to Hamlin a good finish today could see him close that gap considerably.
After all the mud that has been thrown at the Richard Childress Racing team this week after the penalties handed out by NASCAR following the rules violation with the #33 car it is a shame to see them all struggling in qualifying at Dover. Clint Bowyer has made it clear he intends to fight for wins to try and overcome his points defecit so should be one to watch in Sunday’s race.
It is tough trying to avoid mentioning the ongoing saga of the penalties from the Loudon race but the story continues. Denny Hamlin inflamed the RCR teams by making bold accusations against them during a live television interview on Friday before qualifying, accusations that, when asked for his response led Richard Childress to say simply, if emotionally, “I’d be bad to say what I’m thinking. Time to bite the lip.” On Friday evening Hamlin complained bitterly on Twitter about the way his words had been printed but then seems to have back-tracked and the tweets were subsequently deleted. And there you would hope the matter ended.
Not a bit of it. During Saturday’s first practice the Hamlin and Harvick cars nerfed each other on the opening lap and when they returned to the Nationwide garage to effect repairs entered a toe-to-toe slanging match until separated by team members and NASCAR officials. Both drivers refused to comment after practice finished but Childress’s comments directed at Hamlin, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” and the far less clichÃ©ed, “You can’t win a pissing contest with a skunk!” show that feelings between Hamlin and the Childress teams are definitely running high and it’s hard to imagine this episode has reached its climax yet.
And finally, veteran driver Mark Martin in the #5 Delphi/GoDaddy Chevrolet run by Hendrick was found to have an over-pressurised right rear shock at the end of qualifying and was moved from his third spot in the starting line-up back to 42nd.