With advancement into the Contender Round for the NASCAR championship on the line, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 45th annual AAA 400 at Dover international Speedway.
Surprising: After experiencing a tire valve stem issue early in the race, one driver surprisingly seemed to have turned his attention to the upcoming holidays instead.
“The inner valve stem got knocked out just like the first race here, except this time it was on the left-front,” the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet said after finishing 13th from the pole. “A lug nut got in between the wheel and the brake rotor and knocked the valve stem out.”
“So unfortunate, but probably our own fault for not finding a solution for it the first race,” Harvick continued. “Just handing out early Christmas presents to people for winning races that we should be winning.”
“It’s just unbelievable that it can happen.”
Not Surprising: As has played out for much for the season to date, the Monster Mile was also two-team dominated. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon won the race, while his usually strong at Dover teammate Jimmie Johnson finished third.
Team Penske also had a great day at Dover, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished second and fourth respectively.
“I knew we could compete with the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car,” Jeff Gordon said in Victory Lane. “The No. 2 was really good on short runs, but we could run him down. Of course he made us work for it there at the end.”
“Certainly wish we were in Victory Lane, but good solid third-place run,” Hendrick teammate Johnson said. “We had a solid car.”
“All I could think about was how I wanted to win all three races,” Brad Keselowski said after his runner-up finish. “Three more races and we’ve got to keep our head on straight t and push forward these next three like we have these last three.”
“It was a hard-fought day, which is pretty normal for here at Dover,” Logano said of his fourth place finish. We got something good out of it and now we’ll start the next round and try to move on to the next one.”
“We’ve got to focus on what we do to go fast and not what other people are doing or who our competition is,” Logano said about the Team Penske vs. Hendrick battle. “There are 11 other guys right now who are our main competition, so we’ve got to look at them all just like we did going into this round. We look at every one as a contender, no pun intended, and we’ll be able to focus on what we’ve been doing with our race cars and go from there.”
Surprising: It was surprising to see just how disappointed so many drivers were who actually advanced to the next round of competition after the race at the Monster Mile.
“It was off a little bit,” Matt Kenseth said, after taking the checkered flag in fifth as the highest finishing Toyota. “I couldn’t do very good on restarts and that really hurt us bad. I’d lose so many spots over the restart and just too hard to get them back.”
“There were times when the car was better than where we finished and other times when it was worse.”
“We did what we had to do today with our Interstate Batteries Camry, but I’m not sure what the problem was on the last couple funs of the race,” Kyle Busch said after finishing tenth. “We were tight all day, but it just got worse at the end.”
“We didn’t run good obviously,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after finishing 17th. “We struggled with our car all day long. We never had a moment during the race where the car was very good and competitive.”
Not Surprising: Although he did not make it into the Chase race, this rookie driver has big plans for his participation during the remainder of the competition rounds.
“It was a really good finish for us,” Kyle Larson said after taking the checkered flag in the sixth spot. “Hopefully I can be the guy that wins Kansas and Charlotte so all the Chase guys can be nervous going into Talladega.”
Surprising: While everyone else who made it to the Contender Round of the Chase had Talladega on their minds, one driver surprisingly indicated that he could not wait to get to the superspeedway.
“This is built for us,” Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford said. “We’ve got to capitalize on it and go run well at Kansas and Charlotte.”
“We know we can win Talladega, so I look forward to that race,” Edwards continued. “That’s the first time I’ve ever looked forward to Talladega in the Chase, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Not Surprising: At a track that he claims as one of his own close to home, it was not surprising that Martin Truex Jr. had a good run, finishing seventh after starting 26th. Truex scored the second best finish among non-Chase drivers and this was also his second best finish of the season.
“Dover has always been a special place for me,” Truex said. “I don’t know what it is about this track – maybe it’s just home field advantage for me because it seems like the longer the race goes here the better we get.”
“Just like last week (New Hampshire) I wish the race was longer. I never thought I would say that.”
Surprising: While many, including Mr. Hendrick have stated that they are witnessing the rebirth of race winner Jeff Gordon as he drives for his fifth championship, another driver felt surprisingly renewed after squeaking into the next round of competition.
“I feel great,” Denny Hamlin said after finishing 12th in his No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota. “We’ve got another life.”
“This is going to be a great comeback story if we can keep going,” Hamlin continued. “This is a new life.”
Not Surprising: There was no fairy tale ending for the two small Cinderella teams battling for their place in the Chase, as both Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger were eliminated.
“It just didn’t work out for us,” Aric Almirola said after his 28th place finish. “I hate it. We picked a bad day to run the way we did and we can’t blame anybody but ourselves. I’m sure we’ll be able to look past this another day, but right now it’s pretty disappointing.”
“It was an awful day,” Allmendinger said after finishing 23rd. “We didn’t give up. We just missed it all weekend.”
“It’s disappointing to miss it by two points, but we didn’t deserve to be in it with the run that we had,” Dinger continued. “We have to look at it – I’m not going to take a moral victory out of it to miss it by two points, it’s disappointing, but we know we are making steps in the right direction.”
“We have seven races to go. I will be disappointed tonight, but be ready to go tomorrow morning.”
Surprising: One driver was surprisingly gracious in defeat, just missing the next round in competition.
“I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can’t expect to advance by running 15th,” Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet said. “You have to be more competitive. We gave it a good run, you know?”
“We put this team together pretty late,” Busch continued. “Gene Haas believed in me to come in here and do this and thanks to Haas Automation and Chevrolet and great associate sponsors like Mobil 1 and State Water Heaters and Monster Energy.”
“We don’t get to advance to the championship, but we can still run for pride and run for wins.”
Not Surprising: Perhaps with a small nod to fellow racer Michael Waltrip’s stint on Dancing With the Stars, Kasey Kahne, who just squeaked into the next round of competition, told his pit crew that they would have to step it up after some struggles during the Dover race.
“Well, these guys work hard,” Kahne said. “And we’ve struggled all season with that. But they work hard and I know they’ll keep working hard.”
“I just told them if you guys want to go further, it’s time to step-up,” Kahne continued. “It’s time to put our best stuff out there. I know they want to. They’ll work hard this week.”
“I’m going to work hard and we’re going to be prepared when we get to Kansas and hopefully we can keep moving on.”
Not surprising: Harvick beginning to whine like Kyle Busch. Christmas present? Dude, Bill Vukovich said it best “You never lose what you never had.” You never had the race won, and you never gave anything to anybody. Find out how to cross the finish line first.