Keselowski stretches fuel again to claim Chase lead; more from Dover
Brad Keselowski won at Dover for his fifth win of 2012 and second of the Chase
The early indications are that the Chase has come down to a three-driver race
For the seventh straight time, Kyle Busch lost a race he led the most laps in
If Brad Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, and the engineers at Penske Racing ever decide to leave NASCAR, they could probably quickly find a job with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Because if there is anybody out there who can increase the fuel efficiency of the nation's automobiles, it is this group.
Once again, while all those around him were heading to the pits to take a late splash of gas or slowing down to conserve what they had left, Keselowski was able to stretch every last drop of fuel out of his car and take the victory Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway. Maximizing fuel mileage has become a trademark of the No. 2 team, and it is one of the reasons that Keselowski clings to a five-point lead over Jimmie Johnson three races into the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"Everybody had to save fuel but the [No.] 2 car," said Jeff Gordon, who finished second to Keselowski. "We knew coming into the Chase that fuel mileage would be a factor, and we've know that we're behind on that to the [No.] 2 car. They have something really figured out on fuel mileage and credit to them. They've done their homework and it's gotten them some wins. It certainly got them one today."
While the ability of the No. 2 team to conserve fuel might have already been widely known, here are five things we learned Sunday at Dover:
1. The Chase for the championship is starting to look like a three-driver race. There are still seven races left in the Chase, but Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin already appear to be the only drivers capable of turning in the consistency needed to win the title. Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all had some decent moments so far in the Chase, but none has looked like a true championship contender. Of the remaining five drivers in the Chase, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have yet to win a race this season, while Gordon, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are all more than 47 points out of the lead.
So early indications are that the 2012 Sprint Cup champion will come out of the trio currently at the top of the standings. Keselowski has won two of the first three Chase races and Hamlin won the other, while Johnson has posted three top-five finishes. If Johnson begins making it back to Victory Lane (he has won only once in the past 16 races), then he could be headed toward championship No. 6.
2. The karma bug continues to bite Kyle Busch. Busch's petulant attitude has been well documented over the years, but the one thing it never seemed to do was prevent him from winning races. Busch won 19 times from 2008 through 2011 and appeared destined to be the next big star in NASCAR.
Things have not gone as planned this year, however, as Busch has had one frustrating experience after another. The biggest letdown, of course, was missing the Chase by only three points when Gordon passed him in the standings in the regular-season finale. But Busch also must be scratching his head about his inability to win a race even when he leads the most laps. Busch led approximately three-fourths of the laps at Dover (302 of 400), but was one of the drivers who had to pit for fuel down the stretch and wound up finishing seventh. It marked the seventh consecutive time that Busch has failed to win a race in which he led the most laps. He now has only one victory over the past 42 Cup races.
3. Sometimes a caution flag doesn't improve the race. One of the biggest complaints this season from fans has been the long stretches of green-flag racing that has resulted in cars being scattered across the track, reducing the amount of side-by-side excitement. The occasional caution flag leads to the double-file restarts that often are the most thrilling parts of a race.
But early in Sunday's race, a caution flag came out at exactly the wrong time and actually led to a less exciting race. A blown tire on J.J. Yeley's car scattered debris on the track on Lap 69, just as most of the field had gone through a series of green-flag pit stops. The handful of drivers who had not yet pitted were able to do so under caution, and they suddenly found themselves a lap ahead of the rest of the field.
For most of the remainder of the race there were less than 10 cars on the lead lap, which led to an odd dynamic. Drivers were running near the front, yet in reality they were a lap down and were not actually in position to contend for the lead. In the end, only 10 drivers completed all 400 laps. Earnhardt finished in 11th place but was two laps down, and everybody else finished at least three laps off the pace.
4. Greg Biffle knows most the words you can't say on TV. Biffle was somewhat displeased with his crew chief, Matt Puccia, following an unscheduled pit stop midway through the race. Biffle was running in 12th place when he had to pit under green because of a front-tire issue. Puccia decided to take the time to replace all four tires, resulting in a lengthier pit stop. By the time Biffle returned to the track he was in 25th place, and his championship hopes were all but over.
Biffle proceeded to get on the radio and offer a 15-second rebuttal to Puccia's decision that included six words that had to be bleeped out of the television broadcast of the race. The only sentence that was broadcast in its entirety was Biffle asking, "Why did you [change] four [tires]?" Puccia shot back with a two-bleep reply of his own, then said to Biffle, "Calm down and relax, all right."
Biffle then went silent for most the rest of the race. He finished 16th and is now in 11th place in the standings, 51 points behind Keselowski.
5. Oct. 13 can't get here fast enough for Kurt Busch. During a news conference this past week to announce that Busch is going to replace Regan Smith in the No. 78 Furniture Row car beginning with the Oct. 13 race at Charlotte, Busch took offense at suggestions that he is making "a lateral move" by going from Phoenix Racing to Furniture Row. In the process, he basically made it sound like his current team simply isn't any good, stating at one point that Furniture Row owner Barney Visser "has put together a program that is tiers above ... just different levels of competition above where [Phoenix Racing] is."
That may be true, though there has been no evidence of it on the track this season, since both single-car teams have managed only two top-10 finishes all year. Still, even if it is true, for Busch to state so publicly couldn't have gone over very well among the Phoenix Racing crew members, who have had to work hard to overcome any deficiencies the under-funded team has.
In addition, this was the group that gave Busch a chance after he torched yet another bridge last year (this time with Penske Racing), and then continued to support Busch midway through the season once he earned a one-race suspension for the combination of a pit-road altercation with Ryan Newman followed a few weeks later by a verbal confrontation with a media member. Now he is bailing on the team with six races remaining in the season, and giving them a bit of a shot on his way out.
With all this serving as the team's backdrop, it should come as no surprise that Busch was never a factor Sunday at Dover and finished 23rd.. One more race, next week at Talladega, and both Busch and Phoenix Racing can have a new start that is now desperately needed.