Race Weekend Central

David vs. Goliath: A Low but Costly Body Count for Miles the Monster

DOVER, Del. – Easily the most treacherous venue the Sprint Cup Series has tackled since Bristol, the Monster Mile of Dover is well-known for being extremely difficult, with its high banks and slick surface completely unforgiving for those that lose control.

Much like Saturday’s Nationwide Series event (Oct. 1), though, Sunday’s 400-miler proved to be far more lenient with regards to attrition. It’s just that when the Monster bit, it took a bite out of some teams that didn’t need to fall victim to the venue’s notorious boilerplate steel walls. Miles the Monster is a Goliath figure and he got the better of NASCAR’s Davids this Sunday.

Score One for David

Regan Smith finished 17th for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78 car, notching a career-best result for the track and his first top-20 performance at Dover. Patience proved to be the word of the day for the No. 78 squad, as the driver noted, “we got behind today, but with sound pit strategy and being calm, we managed to collectively work through the problems” in post-race remarks.

That was true; Smith needed to take the wave-around early, after falling a lap down with handling woes and simply survived to stay on the lead lap the rest of the day. More importantly, though, to go along with the teamwork Smith’s result was the fourth consecutive top-20 finish for Furniture Row.

Outside of the Chase field, Smith has remarked recently that his team is already in preparation mode for the 2012 season. If this consistency is any indicator, they may well be ready to challenge for a top-20 points position this time next year.

David Reutimann ended up carrying the flag for Michael Waltrip Racing this Sunday despite teammate Martin Truex Jr. stealing headlines a day before with an unexpected pole run in qualifying. Displaying consistency that has seldom been seen from the No. 00 team in 2011, Reutimann brought his Toyota home 14th, the first top-15 result his team has enjoyed since Kentucky way back in July.

Richard Petty Motorsports drivers AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose have each proven in the past both a flavor and an aptitude for the Monster Mile, but their results, seventh and ninth are significant in that RPM hasn’t placed two cars in the top 10 in the same race on an oval since the 600 in May, over four months ago.

What’s more, Allmendinger made the save of the day on lap 6 of the event, power-sliding through turns 3 and 4 after contact from Denny Hamlin while keeping his Ford off the wall. That he charged to a top-10 result all the way from 43rd in the running order just made the day all the more impressive.

Score One for Goliath

JJ Yeley came into the weekend with a lot on his plate, carrying the Drive Sober campaign for the state of Delaware on Front Row’s No. 38 cars. That the team brought two cars was relevant after Yeley found trouble during practice on Friday, slapping the wall to a degree that the rear wheels of his Ford were visibly disjointed out of the rear wheel wells when the car made it back to the garage.

Yeley and team were quick enough to get the backup off the hauler and get some practice time in it, but that proved to be a moot exercise. Already a number of laps off the pace, Yeley found the wall again on lap 301 when the right-front tire gave out, sending the backup car into the fence on a day where he experienced five – yes, five pit-road penalties.

Once the day concluded, Yeley finished a disappointing 34th and lost more ground to TRG and the No. 71 team in the battle for 35th in owner points.

Yeley’s contact with the wall was nothing, though, compared to Mike Bliss‘s ugly accident in turn 2. Bliss had narrowly avoided disaster early in the event when he blindly came up on a slow Casey Mears hurtling into turn 1 on lap 137; the No. 32 car went hard to the right and missed the rear end of the No. 13 by inches, making slight contact with the wall as Bliss struggled to get control despite being up in the marbles.

The save was all for naught. On lap 352, Bliss broke loose on his own exiting turn 2, hitting the inside retaining wall with the left front tire of his Ford. The damage was extensive enough that the No. 32 FAS Lane car could not be driven back to the pits, leaving the team with an ugly 36th-place DNF.

Speaking of Mears, the No. 13’s woes were just the finish to what was another ugly weekend for the Germain Racing organization. Coming into the weekend, the team commented publicly that due to sponsorship woes, the team’s once-vaunted Truck program may disappear entirely in 2012, with a manufacturer change also likely to be in the works due to a shortage of supply from Toyota Racing Development.

Saturday went poorly, with Mike Skinner DNQing in the team’s No. 60, the only car to miss Sunday’s show. And on Sunday, though Mears and team were intent on running the full distance, a loss of fuel pressure led to the No. 13 nearly getting slammed in the rear end by Bliss on lap 137. The car was eventually repaired, getting the car up to speed but Mears lost 31 laps doing so. A 35th-place finish was the end result of a disappointing day only a few hours from GEICO’s corporate headquarters.

There was no driver more disappointed in his Dover results than polesitter Martin Truex Jr., who saw a stellar Saturday at his unofficial home track gone within the first run on Sunday. From the drop of the green flag, the No. 56 car dropped like a rock through the field, as far as 19th in the running order by the quarter-race mark. The race was a lost cause even before lap 309, but a blown tire that caused the No. 56 to hit the fence put an exclamation point on perhaps the biggest single disappointment of a lost 2011 campaign.

Winner: Goliath. Smith and Reutimann both ran well, but three wrecked cars between FAS Lane Racing and Front Row Motorsports were not what the doctor ordered, even with the teams both having some sponsorship this weekend.

To Date

Goliath: 2-0-1
David: 0-2-1

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