The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway…

1. Get out of Line

After a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a very entertaining race, the immediate reaction from NASCAR Twitter was, Man, that overtime line rule stinks!

That’s understandable, because fans invested four hours in a race that built anticipation with great racing — only to see a non-finish. Ugh.

It’s easy to follow the “That sucked!” reaction with “NASCAR should change that!” But there are still a few benefits worth considering before throwing the whole thing out.

First, the current overtime rule was designed for superspeedways and still has validity at Talladega and Daytona. By cutting down on overtime attempts, there’s a reduced risk of a car flying into the fence like Austin Dillon or Kyle Larson at Daytona.

Second, it lessens the chances of race manipulation. Remember, this rule was created in the wake of the sketchy Talladega finish in the 2015 Chase.

So with that in mind, NASCAR had to come up with a rule that would address those issues while also applying to every race and all types of tracks (otherwise, people could scream inconsistency!).

But Dover really could have used multiple overtime attempts, so it doesn’t need to be governed by the same rules as plate tracks. Maybe it’s time to separate the two.

NASCAR could bring back the three overtime attempts for non-plate tracks while keeping the overtime line/current format for plate tracks only. After all, it’s a safety thing at plate tracks in a lot of ways and I can’t get on board with ideas like unlimited attempts no matter how much some fans say they want it.

Either way, NASCAR will probably end up changing some element of the overtime rule because fans seem really disgusted about how the end of the Dover race turned out.

2. Monster entertainment

It’s a shame the craptacular finish overshadowed what was otherwise a very fun and entertaining race for the second year in a row at Dover’s spring event.

I watched most of the race from the press box, and I kept getting so caught up in watching the battles that I forgot to tweet updates a few times. The leader never seemed to be able to get very far away, and the passes for the lead seemed to take multiple laps to execute.

There had been talk about adding VHT to Dover’s surface, but it definitely didn’t need it. The race had multiple grooves and drivers were all over the track. There always seemed to be something interesting going on.

I asked Martin Truex Jr. why Dover has put on a good race the last couple years.

“Man, it’s just so hard,” he said. “I think everybody is just so out of control, you run five laps and every one of them is a little different because you’re just out there hanging on. The tires are bouncing and skipping across the track so bad. You can get a little bit of a gap on somebody, and then you get in the corner a foot too deep and you slide sideways and he’s up your butt again and then you’re even looser.

“It’s just really hard to be consistent here and hit your marks. I think that’s why everybody comes and goes. (The cars) are just a handful and you’re sliding around just praying you make it through every single lap — and I guess that makes for exciting racing and guys getting close to each other.”

If that’s the case, this goes along with the theory that the more teams struggle with nailing a setup or finding consistency, the better the racing turns out to be.

3. Playoff Points for Dummies (like me)

Speaking of Truex, he won two more stages on Sunday to bring his season total to eight (most in the series) and has 18 playoff points halfway through the regular season.

For some reason, I didn’t understand how exactly the playoff points worked until talking with a couple people from NASCAR this weekend. So if I didn’t know, maybe you don’t either.

I thought — incorrectly — a driver would start with the playoff points and they were like money. If  the driver didn’t use them in Round 1, they would carry over to Round 2. But that’s not the case at all.

The actual rule is whatever amount of playoff points a driver has, they get that amount at the start of every round whether they needed them in the previous round or not. And they can further add to that total while in the playoffs.

So let’s say Truex doesn’t get another playoff point the whole season (unlikely). He would start Round 1 with 18 points. If he advances to Round 2, he starts with 18 points. Same with Round 3.

That’s a massive advantage and it will really make a major difference in the playoffs, because it creates a mulligan opportunity.

Anyway, hopefully my ignorance will help others out there understand. But I’m sure a lot of you already know that rule and you’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? How many races into the season are we?”

“Are you kidding me?” Truex said when I brought this up. “How many races into the season are we?”

He was well aware of the rule, of course, and that’s one reason why the 78 team has been so aggressive in going after stage wins.

“It is huge, and that’s why we keep trying to pile them up,” he said. “We might be able to get to 30 or so, but that’s still only half a race (with maximum 60 points this year). So they’re going to be important as long as you can be consistent. You’re still not going to be able to afford to have consecutive really bad days.”

In the past, the the typical regular season storyline is “Who will make the playoffs?” This year, that’s joined by the talk of “Who is in good shape with playoff points?”

4. He’s lucky AND good

There’s no doubt Jimmie Johnson got lucky in a couple instances on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean he’s somehow undeserving of getting to victory lane.

Let’s take Example No. 1. Chad Knaus had Johnson stay out while others were on pit road during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, even though the team was already in its fuel window. As it turned out, Regan Smith hit the wall and brought out a caution — which benefited Johnson, who stayed on the lead lap as others had gone a lap down and had to take the wavearound.

I asked Knaus to shed some light on why. Was he hoping to catch a caution, and did he have a hunch? I think yes, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

“Yeah, there is definitely some strategy,” he said with a smile. “For sure.”

Then there was Example No. 2. Johnson was surely going to lose the race to Kyle Larson, but David Ragan hit the wall to bunch the field and set up overtime.

“When I was watching Kyle pull away from me with five to go, I’m going, ‘All right, second is not bad,’” Johnson said. “And then something in my mind said, ‘This thing isn’t over. They’re not over until the checkered falls.’”

Sure enough, Johnson got his chance — but he still had to execute on the restart. Remember, Larson was right there controlling the overtime start with a chance to win. He couldn’t get it done and Johnson did.

As Kasey Kahne noted on Twitter, it wasn’t the oil dry that cost Larson a chance to win — it was Johnson.

Said Larson:  “Jimmie is the best of our time, probably the best of all time. He just has a lot more experience than I do out on the front row late in races and executed a lot better than I did.  I’ve got to get better at that and maybe get some more wins.”

5. Aw, (lug) nuts!

One of NASCAR’s safety rules was tested this weekend, and what officials decide to do about it should set an interesting precedent.

Kyle Busch lost his left rear wheel after a pit stop early in Sunday’s Cup race, much like Chase Briscoe did in the Truck race on Friday. Both incidents were clearly mistakes by pit crews — the jack dropped before the tire changers had secured the lug nuts — and were not intentional moves to make a faster pit stop.

But NASCAR typically does not judge intent — the rule is the rule — and so harsh penalties will likely be handed out on Wednesday. The crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier (of the wheel in question) are all facing four-race suspensions, which is the mandatory minimum as spelled out in the NASCAR rulebook.

So Busch, who hasn’t won this season, is set to lose Adam Stevens as well as two key pit crew members, for a month. All because of a clear mistake on pit road.

That seems awfully severe, and it also puts Busch on the same page as rival Brad Keselowski (who owns Briscoe’s truck).

“At the end of the day, intent matters,” Keselowski said Saturday. “The intent of the rule was to make sure guys don’t put three lug nuts on and have a wheel come off and say, ‘Aw, too bad.’ That isn’t what happened in the scenario we had.

“It was a mistake. … It’s the difference between murder and manslaughter.”

Here’s the thing, though: If NASCAR lets this slide, it’s eventually going to be faced with a less clear decision and have to play judge on whether or not a pit crew intended to send the car out with one lug nut attached (or something along those lines).

Honestly, it’s better just to have rules and enforce them the same way every time — no matter the circumstances that led to the infraction.

11 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover race”

  1. Not sure about voting tomorrow. I would have gone with Good Race until the last caution. I don’t want to vote Bad Race just because of the ending.

  2. Even with the ending it was still a great overall race.
    I would keep the current overtime rule for non plate tracks but for all others the leader needs to cross the S/F line for the white flag.
    I am sorry for the two teams that lost a tire this weekend but the current rule should be enforced as is for this season. Then if they want to review for 2018 then fine. It was designed so that a tire would not come off and potentially bounce into stands or infield on its on or being hit by another car. There was that potential in both of these cases. As a fan in the stands for several races each year, I want the penalty to be high enough to make sure teams was find a away to prevent this.

  3. I’ve never understood the flak Dover has gotten over the years for the quality of racing. It is very much like Darlington, a track with several unique characteristics that make it difficult to master.

    The issue is when someone does master if they dominate. Pocono is another example of that effect, but to a lesser extent. Dover has always had great racing, especially when you consider the history of leaders having issues. That’s been occurring seemingly since the track opened.

    I do wonder how much the lower downforce really effects the racing here as I have always figured the effect would be most strongly felt here due to the speeds and the banking. The last two years have been the same type of racing you saw in the 1990s.

  4. Did you listen to Dale Jr.’s post race Periscope, by chance? 😉He said the same thing about the overtime line rule. Plate tracks only.

    As for the lug nuts, there should always be an exception to the rule. Besides, (in these 2 cases, anyway) it doesn’t seem right to punish the tire carrier, he did his job. Same goes for the tire changer, he “was” trying to do his job. Then of course the crew chief sure isn’t at fault. What the heck can he do?? It all falls on the jack man, who in both cases dropped the vehicle before job was completed. That’s why some of these sentences don’t fit the crime. Where is the jack man’s place in all these incidents?

  5. I’m a huge fan of the racing at Dover, I am very glad they didn’t add the VHT to the track, it doesn’t need it. I think the OT line rule is dumb, but understand it. I’d like to see it kept as is for plate tracks (1 attempt to the OT line), but I’d like to see it tweaked to be the leader has to cross the OT line AFTER taking the white flag for any other track, I’m ok with limiting it to 3 attempts at that, but to me that would give the fans the best chance to see a green flag finish.

  6. People were whiny about the finish this time, because it was one of two drivers who one: Busch or Johnson. ( I see a joke in there somewhere…)

    If an underdog won, or any driver who spoke out against those two drivers, people would be falling over themselves to applaud NASCAR. Much like the fools who are applauding Brad for calling out another driver (after spending years of his own being nasty to other drivers) for issues that have nothing to do with Brad.

    Restrictor plates are needed at Daytona and Talladega, different rules, per track, per race from night to day and from spring to fall? Absurd to follow. Today’s OT, even though my driver didn’t win, was exactly how it should have been done. It was consistent, has been consistent and it’s easy to follow.

    You start giving extra OTs, because you want and we’ll get even more whiners about how NASCAR has favorites or some other junk. I actually saw a post on Facebook today where a woman, who claimed to be a fan for 30 years, said NASCAR rigged the caution – you know, where the car was ON FIRE and a driver needed to get out? Yeah, because Johnson won, and clearly NASCAR hit the “explode driver’s car” button to let him catch up, while hitting the “spin Larson’s tire” button on the restart.

    STOP LOBBYING TO MAKE RULES DIFFERENT.

    My head already spins trying to keep up with which track is doing what, what laps segments are and whatnot.

    Dover was just fine. Please, please don’t make even more exceptions. People would still complain if the OT line was later and later and later, if the outcome wasn’t what they wanted. Driver safety. Period. That’s why there is the line. So drivers aren’t dumptrucking to change the outcome.

    Brian the Brainless keeps saying he wants to make NASCAR “like other sports”. Then why are we trying so hard to make it so different week to week? We don’t allow certain football stadiums to tack on extra time if the home team is within 3 points. We don’t allow baseball teams to get 3 extra outs if the pitcher is over 100 pitches.

    ————————-
    To another of your points:
    I didn’t know the OT rules and frankly, they aren’t really explained during the broadcast either. They keep saying “playoff points”, but you never see what they are, when they apply and the structure.

    I made mention on your post about NASCAR’s distressing nosedive off the ratings and attendance lists, that it’s so HARD to get kids invested in the sport in the first place. Having to have big notebooks, try to work out where what drivers are doing when in Excel sheets? Too much. Way, way too much. It’s only rare occasions when you need to refer to data, in ANY other sport – such as a miracle scenario for your NFL team to make it in the playoffs if they are tied with 4 other teams.

    If adults can barely follow it and have no idea who is where at the end of the race, how can you expect to grow this sport for non-fans to come in and how can you expect to retain legacy family viewers? How many of us adults now were brought into it by parents? My kids can’t stand trying to figure all that out. Win and you’re in. Cool. Bonus point for winning? Well, you won, so we know you got the point. 3-5 sets of points, per race, random intervals, of which some are not even in use yet? No, just no no no no. If you must keep stage racing to keep ADHD people in, give a regular season point for the winner. Bam, done.

  7. If short tracks just moved the overtime line to the start finish line, wouldn’t that make it about the same rules that we had under the green/white/checkered rules? Is there a rule stating it has to be on the backstretch?

  8. I have a question. Why does everybody blame Brian France for all these changes? Where do Jim France, Lesa France Kennedy and all the other CO’s come in? Do people actually think Brian makes all these decisions on his own? I’m pretty sure, multi-billion dollar companies have more than one person to help run their organization’s.

  9. Dover is my favorite 1 mile oval,the concrete & banking give option and the setup are less than perfect.Every unique track have a team or driver that suits them.

    It’s a car control track that usually suit driver w dirt experience.The dominator won again,perfect execution Larson will learn from it.Congrats to JJ.

    The approach of racing is now different w the change of guard.They search for the possible line to get the max speed out of the car.Less effort in reaching the perfect setup,more on getting everything from the car because they are driving some of the best stockcar on the entry list.

    Best of luck for Briscoe & Kyle Busch on your upcoming penalties,don’t forget both jackman…in the process.

    On the trickky triangle ,i hope on great in the Poconos

  10. So about the points, Jeff. Really? Use them like money? I like that idea. But on a serious note, where do they have segment points and playoff points accumulated throught season?? I seem to not be finding it ANYWHERE. Knowing me, I overlooked it in an obvious place because of my hasteto find it to begin with, but do you know where I can find it aside from tallying up the points myself? Thanks!! Keep doing what you do. Great stuff man.

  11. Oops, Sean that didn’t urn out quite like I thought it would. The first number is, Martin Truex, “Total Stage Points” (177) the second :Stage Wins” (8)

    Dag gone it, Jeff, we need an edit option. 😳😶🙃

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