The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover spring race

Five thoughts after Monday’s race at Dover…

1. The natives are restless

How long did you think it would take before some in the NASCAR garage started making sharply critical comments about the rules package?

If you had 11 races into the season, you win.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and team owner Bob Leavine were among those who voiced…um…concerns about the rules package after the Dover race.

“The package sucks,” Busch told reporters, including Frontstretch’s Dustin Albino, on pit road. “No fucking question about it. It’s terrible.”

“Let me second @KyleBusch statement, this package sucks,” Leavine tweeted shortly thereafter. “Has nothing to do with where he finished.”

“Here’s the hard thing about the package,” Harvick told reporters, including Davey Segal. “NASCAR’s tried to accomplish a lot of things with one particular package, but you look at how the cars drive behind each other, and from a driver’s standpoint, it’s hard to race them. Anywhere.”

The NASCAR Foundation may be getting some donations after at least two of those statements, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. NASCAR certainly doesn’t want drivers to bad-mouth the package, but the majority of the drivers feel the same way Busch does — they’ve just been biting their tongues for awhile now.

This rules package, aside from greatly benefiting the Talladega race, hasn’t lived up to expectations at intermediate tracks and outright hurt the racing at ovals 1 mile or less.

At some point, if that trend continues, drivers are going to get bolder about speaking their minds. The frustration has been bubbling and building just beneath the surface, and it was only a matter of time before an outspoken driver like Busch said something.

Now, will that change anything? Not immediately. If anything, Leavine’s comment may carry more weight — because it’s the team owners who would have to agree to any midseason changes to the package.

But if drivers start to voice their opinions and the momentum builds for a change, NASCAR ultimately might be forced into going a different direction.

2. Gibbs World

A hot topic one month ago was the combined domination of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske — something that was interrupted only by a superspeedway-generated Hendrick Motorsports victory last week.

It was easy to look at JGR and Penske after eight races — back when JGR had won five races and Penske three — and go, “They’re kicking everyone’s butts!”

But now JGR has won SEVEN races (out of 11), so maybe it’s more like JGR is doing the butt-kicking by itself.

For example: Four Cup Series drivers have multiple wins this season — and three of them drive for JGR. Meanwhile, other traditionally strong teams like Stewart-Haas Racing haven’t won at all.

While Busch and Hamlin struggled on Monday, Truex stomped the field and won by more than nine seconds. So the organization clearly has speed, even on days when not all the team’s cars hit on the setup.

What’s the point of noting this? We’re starting to approach the time of the season where trends are identified and become storylines, like the Big Three hatching out of its spring egg last year. So just keep in mind JGR is starting to pile up a crazy total of wins — at least for the first week of May — and might have a chance to go on a historic run of trophy-hogging.

3. Dover needs a rain deal

Dover is one of the last tracks in NASCAR without some sort of weather protection plan for fans, which hurt some of the track’s loyal customers in the wallet this weekend.

Pocono has the “Worry-Free Weather Guarantee,” where if a race is rained out and your ticket isn’t scanned on the postponed date, you automatically get a refund.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp. have both adopted weather guarantees of their own, where fans can exchange any unused grandstand ticket for another race at an ISC or SMI track within one year of the originally scheduled race (or next year’s race at the same track).

But Dover — along with Indianapolis, as far as I can tell — are the lone remaining tracks without such fan protection programs.

Granted, a Cup Series race at Dover hadn’t been rained out in 12 years (which is a pretty incredible run). So it’s not like this was a big issue for the track.

After Sunday, though, the track should step up and implement a weather guarantee for the future. I received tweets from fans who had to eat the cost of their tickets because they couldn’t return on Monday — and some vowed not to make that mistake again.

It’s just not good to put your core customers in that position, which I’m sure is being made clear to track officials through fan feedback. Hopefully Dover can learn from this weekend and make an improvement soon.

4. Who needed it more?

Both Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman had great runs on Monday, helping Chevrolet retain some momentum and helping their teams move back into the playoff picture.

But in my view, Bowman’s finish was more important than Larson’s.

Larson finally had a race without a piano falling out of the sky and landing on his car, which is good for him. He needed a nice, clean run — and he got one. The thing is, I haven’t really heard people wondering aloud if Larson would ever get back to being competitive again. It was more a matter of time before his streak of misfortune ended and he started running well.

Bowman, though, is a different case. Since he’s yet to win in the No. 88 car and doesn’t run up front, it seems like he’s always getting mentioned as someone who could be on the hot seat. (His contract runs through 2020, if you were wondering.) So stringing together back-to-back runner-up finishes — with Dover way more impressive than Talladega — is a fantastic development for him.

Hendrick has obviously been down the last couple seasons, so Bowman has had somewhat of a built-in excuse. If a seven-time champion can’t run up front and win, would you really expect Bowman to do so?

But measuring success in that case really comes down to comparison against teammates, and Bowman was the best of the Hendrick drivers at Dover.

He’ll need more than that to stay with the team long term, but runs like that certainly help his cause.

5. What’s next

After three short tracks, a superspeedway and whatever category of track Dover is, it’s time for a return to the type of venues that make up the meat of the schedule.

Kansas is up next (a Saturday night race this weekend) followed by the All-Star Race and Coke 600 at Charlotte. Then it’s off to high-speed tracks Pocono and Michigan before an off week. 

Perhaps the package will work better at one of those tracks (Michigan, maybe?), thus temporarily alleviating some of the criticism. I’m sure NASCAR would more than welcome that, if so.

But it will also be worth watching these upcoming races to see if the Hendrick speed burst is an illusion, whether Busch can keep up his freakish top-10 streak (now 13 in a row dating to last year), whether the Penske cars can get back to the top tier of teams with JGR and whether drivers like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Larson can break through for their first wins of the season.

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

  1. Wasn’t aware of the ticket protection plans, so I’m very glad to hear about the various programs. F! race in 2005 or 06 had a tire problem. The track was eating them up in 4 and 5 laps. Race was ruined and the following year fans we given extra tickets for that years race to make up for the wasted ones of the previous year. I was surprised at that generosity, now you tell me we’re protecting fans from losing money on rainouts. Takes a lot of the sting away from spending the money. I don’t attend a lot of races, so I’m easily pleased, still it is good to know. Also, I completely agree with your take on Bowman over Larson. Kyle will get his ‘mojo’ back, but Bowman truly needed a lift.

  2. I’m really confused as to what everyone has been complaining about concerning this package and I’ve read it from just about every driver out there. But if passing is so impossible how in the heck did Martin and Alex finish 1st and 2nd when they started from the rear? And though my memory is the worst you could ever imagine I’m pretty sure they aren’t the first this season, to come from the back to finish up front. So as I said I am totally confused on this unable to pass complaint.

    1. If it’s so easy to pass, how come Chase couldn’t regain the lead after he pitted, since he had such a fast car? I’ll wait.

      1. Maybe because his car went away.
        Quote: Chase Elliott – “We just fell off there at the end of that second Stage. That was the time of the race that we needed to be controlling it and not falling back. Just a bad time to have a bad half of a run and that is kind of what happened. So, we were fast, just not fast enough when it really mattered. … (Truex) was really good there at the end for sure. His car came on about the time I felt our car was starting to fall off. And hey, that is what pays. It was a tough race for sure. It was a very physical event, a lot of corner speed, which is hard on us for sure.”

  3. While I was aware that some tracks have a rain out guarantee, I was unaware that Dover and Indianapolis are the only two tracks that don’t have it. After sitting through the rain and being unable to be there on Monday I hope Dover comes up with something. Thanks for being there and staying for the race Jeff

  4. Kyle finnally made a TRUE statement. Race sucked!!!! Only 24 cars in lead lap in first stage should tell the story. Then a 13 second lead at the finish. SUCKS👎 NASCAR let drivers and owners design a package at least they know what’s going on out of a padded office chair!!

    1. Maybe you need to look back at past Dover races, especially before the wave around rule. Having less than 15 drivers on the lead lap is not that unusual at Dover. The Dover spring race in 2000 had 5 guys on the lead lap at the end and in 1999 had 2 guys on the lead lap.
      I also find it a bit disturbing that your definition of a “good race” is dependent on how many guys are on the lead lap. So if a caution comes out every 25 laps during the race and allow most drivers to continually get back on the lead lap by taking wave arounds….. that would be a good race?

      1. This package was to even cars out so wouldn’t have two or five cars on leaf lap. Not a 13 sec lead on second place car!!!

  5. A NASCAR race is an outdoor event, plan accordingly. It is great that some tracks have come up with rain policies, but I can’t imagine they (the rain policies) would stay in place if a rain-out happened and a majority of fans used the policy. When I make my plans to attend a race I consider the chances of rain and have travel planned to accommodate a Monday race.

    1. Exactly. It’s not NASCAR’s fault if you have to go back to work Monday. People need to stop playing the victim and take responsibility for their actions.

  6. I always plan extra day for weather.race not good when there is that big a lead and come from rear to win?something not right.

  7. Yes, the package sucks. Sure…
    206 lead changes in the first 11 races of the season and the package sucks.
    Last year in Formula One there were 55 lead changes during the entire season! The entire season! And 3 races didn’t even had a lead change. And F1 is by far the most watched motorsport in the world.
    This year there were 46 lead changes in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 46 in 24 hours! That’s only 6 or 7 Cup races.
    And the package in NASCAR sucks!
    In Indycar, 148 lead changes during the entire 2018 season. In Australian Supercars 180 lead changes in 30 races last year.
    And the package in NASCAR sucks!
    What do you want? Passing for the lead every lap? That is NOT racing! That’s not even a show. It’s the freeway outside your door.
    You people have no idea how lucky you are to have a series like NASCAR. Most of us around the world would give everything to have racing like this at a driving distance, but all you do is complain, complain, complain.
    Maybe one day NASCAR goes away and we’ll find out what you think about that racing and that package then.

    1. Thank you. I’m so sick and tired of the whining from this fan base. It’s hard to introduce new people to the sport and keep them engaged when the current fans are so negative. They have no idea how good they have it compared to other racing series. If FS1 doesn’t show a Cup practice, the fans throw a hissy fit. Meanwhile, F1 fans in the US have to stay up through the wee hours of the morning just to catch a race live.

    2. I’m Canadian and don’t consider myself a majority NASCAR fan. A majority nascar fan is a follower with no sense of their own opinion and on Sunday night or Monday will find something that is “wrong” with the racing.

  8. This fan base is absolute shit, NASCAR has by far the worst fans in all of professional sports. The majority complains about everything. Maybe it’s time to shut your fucking mouths and look at the positive things in NASCAR and maybe new fans will latch on to the positives. I do my part, have camped at MIS since 2006, usually enjoy every race and if it’s boring then oh well, on to the next one. Fucking disgraceful fan base.

    1. If everything is fine why are drivers and owners complaining it SUCKS!! The only (FANS) that like it are the ones that like the ones winning. The guy with the most wins even says it SUCKS and can’t PASS!!!

      1. USA, For your information I watch the Canadian truck race and I watch every Cup race on tv. Cup racing and Xfinity is on our networks as is some truck races so I’m not sure what bitching your talking about. Your comment sounded like something that would come out of your disgraceful presidents mouth.

  9. Hey Portugal real racing is changing lead as much as can. If want to see interstate racing will go sit on side of the highway at rush hour would be as exciting as Monday’s race was. If don’t like lead changes watch formula 1 that most winners are told by owners when they can win!!

  10. Hummmm;
    Must be as at does listen just announced aero package change for some tracks. Must be all the complainers aren’t wrong!!!

  11. Josh:
    You seam to be getting a little off track with comments. People shouldn’t throw stones when they live in glass houses!

    1. Where was Josh getting off track? If the fans are being negative to the point of it becoming toxic and harmful to the sport’s image, then their behavior absolutely needs to be called out. How is the sport supposed to grow if potential new fans are turned away by the hostile behavior shown by the current fans?

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