Rear View Mirror: Dover

Tony Stewart

Several drivers were plagued by pit road penalties and problems throughout the AAA 400. (Photo: Getty Images)

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DOVER, Del. – The sniping and fighting, poking and prodding and overall head games at Dover this weekend overshadowed Sunday’s race.
 
It’s too bad the actual racing couldn’t live up to all the extracurricular activities.
 
Sunday’s Jimmie Johnson win was actually more at home in the ho hum file than the activities that preceded the AAA 400. The victory no doubt set off alarms around some corners of “NASCAR Nation” that Johnson was indeed back on track for a fifth straight championship.
 
But overall it was a very tame affair, certainly by Dover standards and coming off last week’s rough and tumble playoff opener in New Hampshire.
 
Whenever any driver got ahead of the field – AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch or Johnson – they were long gone, beneficiaries of clean air.
 
The only hold your breath moments came on the handful of restarts that followed caution flags, which in reality were few and far between.
 
So we leave Dover with Johnson back to his winnings ways and only 35 points behind Denny Hamlin for the Sprint Cup Series lead.
 
Yawn.
 
The stories most everyone is more interested in involve Richard Childress Racing, Clint Bowyer, Childress, NASCAR officials, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
 
Those were the players in all the controversy that began last Tuesday and escalated into a war of words that boiled over to an on track incident between Harvick and Hamlin, which boiled over to a near brawl between their respective crews in the garage area.
 
With that potential powder keg possibly set to blow in Sunday’s race there was much anticipation for round two of the Chase. Unfortunately it fizzled and we’re forced to watch things unfold this week with Childress appealing NASCAR’s penalty before we unload at Kansas Speedway next weekend.
 
With any luck the drama will continue during the days ahead and come to a more satisfying crescendo on the race track Sunday in Kansas City.
 
• Johnson’s 19th Chase win of his career was just another demonstration of the four-time champion’s uncanny ability to perform when it matters most. Whenever Johnson and Chad Knaus have their backs against the wall, like they did when their Chase started with a 25th-place finish in New Hampshire, they rebound in a big way and did it again this weekend in Dover.
 
• Hamlin pegged Dover as the worst track he’d have to face in the Chase based on past performance, so to come out of Sunday’s race with a top-10 finish and the Sprint Cup Series point lead has to be considered a success for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
 
• Harvick looks at Dover the same way as Hamlin does so while the No. 29 wasn’t a factor Sunday, finishing the race without any major difficulties was no doubt also a sigh of relief.
 
• Pit road was a critical place Sunday with several drivers including Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart getting penalized for speeding while others, like Matt Kenseth, had trouble getting slowed down enough off the race track to make it into the pits.
 
• Allmendinger was the cream of the crop in the first half of the race with a dominating run, thwarted by a loose wheel that derailed the Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s quest for a first career Cup win.
 
• Attendance Sunday was about on par with May’s Dover turnout, not a sellout by any means. It will also be interesting to see how many people tuned into ESPN’s telecast with NASCAR certainly hoping the controversies will help draw more eyeballs to the tube especially in light of last week’s prolific ratings drop for the Chase opener.

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