Some said that Matt Kenseth stole victory in Sunday’s FedEx 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Dover,Delaware but that is to do the man an injustice. He won the race by making a simple tactical decision during a caution period after Juan Pablo Montoya spun with just 37 laps to go.
Mark Martin opted to stay out on track as the leaders pulled on to pitlane when the caution flag came out. The first four cars making their way to their pit stalls, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth were planning to take four tyres. Kenseth was up on the jack when he suddenly keyed his radio and asked crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, if he was sure he didn’t want to try just two tyres. Fennig immediately replied, “Put on two”, and that quicker stop won Kenseth the lead off pit lane.
Edwards and Johnson who had been battling for the lead for the majority of the race – Edwards had lead 117 laps, Johnson 207 – both initially thought with over thirty laps to go they would have the chance on completely fresh tyres to haul the two-tyre men in but Johnson realised as he saw just how many had opted for two that he might have a tougher task than he had envisaged.
The track had been very green at the start of the race following Saturday’s rain but as the race wore on it rubbered up a lot which, together with the sun shining down on the Monster Mile meant the cars needed to ride higher up the track to find some grip, effectively making it a one line track. The opportunities for the cars with four new tyres passing the rest was looking bleak and Edwards and Johnson were in fact doomed to finish in seventh and ninth places respectively.
The only man on four new tyres to make any progress was, almost inevitably, Kyle Busch who overtook several cars in the first three or four laps as he found himself running higher than anybody else. He made his was quickly up to fourth while he could but then, as the heat built up in everybody’s tyres so the speeds started evening out. Fourth was a remarkable achievement for Busch as his M&M’s Toyota was forced to start in 43rd and last place following an engine change. The result kept him in third place in the title chase behind Edwards and Johnson.
Martin’s gamble to stay out whilst the rest pitted for tyres paid off with a finish in second place. He was overtaken by Kenseth two laps after the restart but then managed to hold station, eventually finishing just over two seconds behind the no. 17 car. Third was Marcos Ambrose who had a really fast car all afternoon with his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, running top ten for more or less the whole race. He was another to benefit from only taking two tyres at the last pit stop.
Fifth place man Brian Vickers had much to be happy about; a year ago he was forced to watch this race from a hospital bed unsure if he would ever be able to race a car again having discovered he had blood clots on his lungs and a faulty heart. To him fifth place just a year on was as good as a win especially as he had slapped the inner wall quite hard as early as lap two trying to avoid a wayward Kevin Harvick.
Unluckiest men on the day were A J Allmendinger who ran the first 140 laps or so in the top five only to have his car drop a cylinder and then expire and Kasey Kahne who also had an engine failure after working his way up to top ten positions.
Clint Bowyer, who was leading the race when Montoya had his spin and fully believed he could win if those final thirty laps or so had run under a green flag, was left to rue losing the race off pit road and had to settle for sixth at the checkered flag.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will race for the next two weekends at Charlotte, NC, with the non-championship Showdown and then All Star races on Saturday followed eight days later by the Coca-Cola 600 race.