Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 AAA 400 at Dover

Who’s in the headlineKevin Harvick dominated the race and dominated the headlines. He drove from a 15th-place starting spot, due to qualifying being rained out, to the lead in just 23 laps. From then on, Harvick led 355 of the final 377 laps, only losing the lead during pit stops when drivers took two tires or stayed out. Harvick was 23 points down from advancing to the final 12 on points so the only way he was positive he would advance was to win the race. From the drop of the green flag he left no doubt that he was going to do exactly that.

What happenedJimmie Johnson started the race fifth and was headed toward the front of the field to challenge Harvick for the lead when he faced a problem in the rear of his car. It turned out a failed axle seal caused the rear end gear lube to leak away from the rear gear, and 37 laps in the garage eliminated him from contention for a win and ultimately from a shot to move to the second round of the Chase. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Jamie McMurray on the final restart and held on, securing the 12th and final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch ran in the top five from the second restart of the race until nearly the end and finished second to Harvick. That allowed Busch to finish one point ahead of the cutoff and advance to the next round. McMurray, Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer are the four drivers failing to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Why you should care – Coming into the Chase, Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Busch were tied for the top spot. Busch finished 37th at Loudon and did what he had to do today to make it to the next round. Johnson’s misfortune resulted in a 41st-place finish and he came up short in advancing. There is some room to rebound in this iteration of the Chase, but it doesn’t prevent one of the drivers who led the series in wins during the regular season from failing to make it to the second round.

What your friends are talking aboutAustin Theriault wrecked in the Truck race at Las Vegas on Saturday night. His car plowed nose first into the outside wall and made contact where there was no SAFER barrier installed. While he thankfully survived, he has a compression fracture in his lower back. There are no more excuses for not having SAFER barriers on any track facing walls. Some enterprising lawyer needs to sue SMI, ISC and NASCAR for creating an unsafe working environment.

A caution was extended for a bird on the track on Sunday. When is NASCAR going to learn that there is natural selection in the gene pool of all living creatures. If a woodland creature wanders onto the grounds of a racetrack and is foolish enough to stick around with all of the activity going on around a stock car race, then they deserve to meet their demise on the track. These cars are strong enough to run over a bird or rabbit and not be damaged extensively.

Tony Stewart announced this week, in what is one of the worst kept secrets of the season, that 2016 will be his final year in Sprint Cup. He is not hanging up the helmet, he is merely getting out of the top series of NASCAR. Stewart is one of the best racecar drivers of all time and will be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee for NASCAR. He’s going to still be actively involved as a car owner, but he’s also going to run in many more forms of motorsport at some of the bucket list races he’s always wanted to try but didn’t have time.

Restarts were still a big topic this week so NASCAR doubled the size of the restart zone. Thankfully there was no discussion of any of the restarts during the event. Whether that was due to Brad Keselowski being flagged at Loudon or the larger zone, we can only hope they are done being a topic during the final seven races of the Chase.

The preliminary 2016 Cup schedule is out and, shocking absolutely no one, there are no changes to the Chase races and minimal alterations to the entire schedule. As much as everyone would like to think that NASCAR listens and would think about mixing things up, they are once again showing that they aren’t going to do anything to upset their old boy network apple cart.

Who is mad – Johnson owns Dover. Unfortunately for him, a failed rear axle seal resulted in 37 laps in the garage and an end to his Chase. That also signaled an end to his quest for a record tying seventh championship for another year. The No. 48 didn’t charge into the Chase but they were running solidly through the first two races and headed to the front at Dover when the rear end problem surfaced. For now Johnson will have to look to be a spoiler for someone else’s title hopes in 2015.

McMurray was in position to advance to the second round before Landon Cassill done blowed up on lap 372. When the race went back to green, he got a little loose heading into turn 3 and Earnhardt was able to power around on the outside. With the dependency of these cars on the air, McMurray was unable to get back around NASCAR’s most popular driver. Since Earnhardt had six bonus points coming into the round the two tied for 12th. The tiebreaker is the best finish in the round, and Sunday’s third trumped McMurray’s fourth, so Jamie Mac is left to battle for fifth over the final seven races.

Menard put himself in position to capitalize on one of his six best racetracks to advance to round two. He was one point out of the transfer spot coming into Sunday and had to feel confident that he and the No. 27 team could replicate their eighth-place finish from the first Dover race and move on to the round of 12. Instead, he started 14th and, unlike Harvick, went straight backwards at the drop of the green. He was quickly in the 20s and spent nearly the entire second half of the event running 25th, finishing the race three laps down and on the outside looking in at the Chase.

Who is happy – While you couldn’t tell it from the television coverage, since NBC Sports didn’t bother to interview him at all after the race, Aric Almirola put together a fifth-place run on Sunday. He is now three points behind Kasey Kahne for 17th in points which, thanks to the overly inflated points totals handed to Chase drivers, is all he has left to fight for. The Chase is obviously a big story at this time of year but NASCAR likes to feed us a line of garbage that the other drivers still matter and they are still racing for something. Apparently, through the actions of the sanctioning body and their broadcast partner, that is not the case at all.

Earnhardt Jr. was on the outside looking in when the race went back to green on lap 358 and was headed to racing the final seven races to try and finish fifth after Homestead. Fortunately for him he got one more chance at a restart and made the most of it. Making the pass on the outside, where few were able to go on restarts Sunday, was enough to move Earnhardt ahead of McMurray and into the next round. Earnhardt knows that his team has some work to do, but also knowing that Talladega is the final race of this round has to make him feel good about heading to the final eight.

Kurt Busch started the race seventh and marched forward to the top three by the midway point of the race. Unfortunately for him, later in the race his left front seemed to have a situation where the jack bolt was backing off and causing the car to de-wedge. His team brought the car in and attempted to fix the situation but the car still seemed to have something amiss. Busch wrestled his way to a 17th-place finish and managed to get himself to the second round thanks to his persistence and ability.

When the checkered flag flew

Harvick’s win is his 31st in 531 career starts. This was Harvick’s first career win at Dover. This is Harvick’s third win of 2015. Harvick is now 24th on the all-time wins list, one behind Dale Jarrett. Harvick led 581 of the 967 laps in the first three Chase races. 355 laps led at Dover was a career-high number of laps led in a single event for Harvick.

Kyle Busch finished second for the fifth top-two in his career at Dover. Busch came home in the top-two for the seventh time in 2015. This was Busch’s 31st career runner-up run. That ties him with Benny Parsons for 22nd on the all-time list.

Earnhardt Jr. came home third for the sixth podium finish in his career at Dover. This was Earnhardt’s ninth top-three of the season. Earnhardt has run top-three 88 times in his career. That is 27th on the all-time list.

Matt DiBenedetto finished 34th to claim Rookie of the Race honors.

Round one of the Chase is over and done. Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and Harvick advanced to the Contender round thanks to victories. The other drivers advancing and their point positions:

  1. Joey Logano
  1. Carl Edwards
  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  1. Kurt Busch
  1. Jeff Gordon
  1. Brad Keselowski
  1. Kyle Busch
  1. Ryan Newman
  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $9,685,468 in 29 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,282,568.

In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,986,205 for the winners and $368,150 for last place in 28 races.

After 18 Truck races the winner has $868,151 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $166,555.

What is in the cooler – Once again, Mile the Monster was about as toothless as he can be. Eight cautions flew and one of them involved more than one car. A competition caution and two debris cautions that both appeared to be bogus just left fans looking for more. The amount of talk after the race about difficulty passing was painful, but also emphasized how poor the package is considering how aero dependent the cars were on a 1-mile track. On the plus side, Harvick led 355 laps and was the only driver that managed to make a pass on the track for the lead. There was the contrived excitement revolving around the elimination aspect of the Chase so we’ll give it two Big Beef Porters from 3rd Wave Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Contender round begins at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night, October 10th. The only night race in the Chase begins at 7:00 pm and can be seen on NBC. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. For those not near a TV that would like to watch the race it can be see on the NBCSports.com LiveExtra stream.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Bill B

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much points racing as I did yesterday. The race was more about watching the chase points than the actual race running order and there is something wrong with that. Thumbs down for showing the points battle pretty much the entire race instead of intervals. Maybe during the last 50 laps that would make sense but not the entire race.

Once again (actually twice) NASCAR just can’t keep from throwing fake cautions to manipulate the race when they reach a certain number of cars left on the lead lap. Once again the broadcast team didn’t keep us updated on who was taking wave-arounds. I believe that NASCAR realizes that a sizeable number of fans don’t like that entitlement program and so the broadcasters have been told not to show a spotlight on those taking advantage of the welfare program. Or maybe it was just because they weren’t chase drivers and,,, if you aren’t a chase driver then who gives a crap.

And this year’s big loser in the arbitrary crapshoot chase…. Jimmie Johnson. While I won’t shed a tear for him being eliminated, it’s a damn shame that a driver that had a decent year is out while so many others with mediocre seasons are still eligible. One mechanical failure should not override your entire season.

Now onto the cruelest round of the chase that puts a capital C in the word crapshoot with regards to the championship since Talladega is the last race.


AMEN to that!


So, i watched most of the race – then had to take the little ones to what ended up being a loud dinner outside the house. I think you all know i’m a Harvick fan, so – for me this race (after having been at the one at NHMS a week earlier) was a bit of a nail biter for me. I wasn’t able to see the last 2 cautions – but figured that it wouldn’t play out as a full on green flag run.

I too am not a JJ fan, but was really hoping to see he and Harvick duke it out in Miami – it was almost like the stage was set for that after Chi.

As for the wave around – it just makes me angry – the leaders work hard to lap people, i mean – Harv had lapped up to 13th place, and that affected McMurray and maybe even Newman, had the wave around not happened, who knows what it could have transpired. I mean, it’s how Denny won Chi…2 laps down, decent car, wave arounds, right place, right time, and a win…

Oh well Happy is in, i’m good with that, hopefully we get some good races at Mville and Dega (and i don’t mean a 42 car pileup) – and we can hope that next season’s aero package makes for better side by side.


i tired to the race 2 times. once when johnson was in the garage the cars on the track were going round and round. was wondering why the race wasn’t stopped so the repair could be made. then at the end to see if harvick could hang onto the lead and not run out of gas.

be interesting to see if nbc delays the start of next week’s saturday night race because of the overrun of college football. have a feeling that we know how the race will pan out…..leader, at any given time, will take off and it will be follow the leader format til a pit stop or caution.

i think i officially really don’t care any longer.


Me too Janice. That was my last race for the season.


The race itself was a snoozer due to Harvick’s domination, but I watched every minute. Watching him temporarily fall out of the Chase after taking four tires while others took two or stayed out is pretty dramatic stuff, no matter how you feel about the Chase in general.

As far as Johnson, I agree that having a mechanical issue negate a very good season to date sucks, especially when you have guys like Newman (has he led a non-pit sequence lap this year?) move on, but there is still a reward for consistency, I guess.

Of the remaining contenders, it wouldn’t surprise me to see any of them move on to the next round, or any of them be eliminated.

Bill B

Watching the points go up and down is not really racing. If you want that kind of excitement, put half of your savings in a growth mutual fund and then stay at home and watch the stock market indices go up and down all day. How exciting!!!!

You know why it wouldn’t surprise you to see any of then move on or be eliminated? Because the whole damn thing is a crapshoot.


boy do I agree with that, Bill.


Bill! No! Are you suggesting that the Chase is a contrived mess that values manufactured excitement over real competition? That, that it cannot produce a legitimate Champion? Blasphemy.


Race number 500 for Johnson didn’t turn out so well. He now has 74 races and to get 31 wins and 80 poles to catch David Pearson. Sixteen wins in the next two seasons will do the trick for wins. Brian has been in touch with Mr. Hendrick.

Brian is working on a rule change to get Johnson back into the chase. “Any driver in the chase who suffers rear end failure during the third race of a segment will get a bye into the next round. Mr. Hendrick, please show your gratitude.”

I had to mute the sound during the time I watched the race (not much) because I couldn’t take the chase talk and only chase talk any more. There are other cars on the track but it’s been the same complaint since the chase was instituted for the good of the product.

It looks like Harvick is still getting Johnson clone cars.

Was Mr. H in victory lane?

Kevin in SoCal

Not to diminish Pearson’s stats, but its easier to get wins and poles when you race only at the tracks you are good at.


Then don’t have people say he “only” has three (real) championships. They’re not Sprint Cup championships. He stopped running for them when he had three rings for his sons. He ran pretty good when he did show up, including in his own car without special treatment. Not like someone else who shall remain nameless but his initials are Jimmie Johnson.


Jimmie Johnson runs pretty good at Dover. How much did that help him?

JD in NC

Eh, DoninAjax, I’ve gotta disagree with your assessment. I believe JJ’s five championships in a row are the primary reason BZF and his Daytona braintrust (just typing that make me laugh) came up with the current crapshoot chase. Johnson and Knaus were brilliant at playing the 10 race chase game. Even Jimmie has alluded to the chase having been changed to make it harder for him to win. BZF was wanting someone (anyone) else to win the championship, although I doubt if a winless Ryan Newman was on his list of preferential champions last year, as almost happened. It also seems as if the plan this year is for an all JGR final at Homestead. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that your tapered spacers are a little different.


Don’t you think that what happens after the 48 fails inspection (caught allegedly cheating and penalized) indicates “perceived” favoritism? And the 48 always passes fast cars when he wants to like he has a bit of extra HP. Brian has to change the name on the trophy and he’s mad because he has to pay for it (again). And I won’t mention timely “debris” cautions when he needs them. I’ll stop there.

Carl D.

Like Bill B. I think it’s a shame that driver who had a year like Jimmie Johnson has had can be eliminated by one mechanical failure, but I’m glad it happened to him and not one of the drivers I actually like. Also, I think it’s ironic that a driver who owes the biggest part of his success to a win-at-all-cost crew chief has been eliminated by mechanical issues.

I don’t like Kevin Harvick, but his dominance yesterday, at a track where he has struggled before, cannot bode well for the other contenders. He’s back among the favorites to win this whole crap-shoot of a championship.

I don’t understand Brad Keselowski’s team. One week he’s top-five, the next week he’s embarrassingly awful.

The accident by Theriault is further proof that Nascar gives mere lip service to safety. They respond to only to tragedy. They are reactive, not proactive, otherwise there wouldn’t be an oval track on the circuit that wasn’t 100% protected by soft walls.

Jamie McMurray had no chance of winning the championship, but it was disappointing to see him eliminated because of one position on the track. I have to admit, though, that Dale Jr. has a better chance at winning the championship than Jamie would have.

It has been a difficult weekend here in SC. I enjoyed the break from reality afforded by the race broadcast yesterday. My home is safe but others in the area are underwater. Businesses are lost. Bridges and roads have been destroyed. Please keep SC in your prayers.


And raining again today! Stay safe.


My heart goes out to all who are affected by these massive floods. Will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.


stay safe. sc was in my thoughts all weekend long. nc too. so much rain.


be safe – prayers and thoughts are with you all.


Hearing about nothing but chase drivers for the entire race is really shoving the format in the face of so many fans that find it abhorrent. Poor Almirola…he’s had 3 good consistent runs lately, and is totally ignored because someone feels tat we need points updates from lap 1, whey mean nothing. They might as well tell the teams not in the points race to stay home for all the attention paid to them. I have no idea what actually happened on track, because NBC failed to keep fans informed.


God awful race. Phony cautions, conveyer belt racing, and way too much of steve letarte. I wish they’d put a muzzle on him. I watched a lot of football and limited nascar. Another snoozer. And the chase discourages racing. Not a good combination.


Midas, if there are enough muzzles I’d like to order one for Rick Games Show Allen. It’s….a…..new Raaaaaace Carrrrrrrr!

Tim S.

In the 50 laps viewed between chores yesterday, the words “points” and “playoffs” were heard so many times that they started to sound funny, like a little kid repeating a word a hundred times. I don’t see how anyone could listen to that for the full distance, no matter what was happening on-track.


I wonder if the telecast crew will ignore Johnson for the remaining races. It seems a shame we won’t see the 48 in close-up for lap after lap after lap after… I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be “There’s Jimmie Johnson, who except for the failure of a seal, would still be in the chase.” And watch him lap after lap after…instead of a non-chaser running second (the nerve of that insignificant competitor).


I wonder that, too. A few years ago when Gordon dropped out of “contention”, he was ignored because in the words of Allen Bestwick, he was no longer “relevant”.

Considering that race fans tune in to know about their favorite for the most part – at least I do – it makes no sense to me. Just cover the race.

Carl D.

I’m sure he won’t get any more coverage than McMurray, Menard, and Bowyer. And unicorns and leprechauns are real. And Brian France is a genius.


Carl, they didn’t seem to mention Gordon much at all yesterday. I thought maybe I just missed it as I channel surfed thru but other people on twitter were mentioning it as well.

Brian France is a genius! Ha, it hurts when I my tea goes down the wrong pipe.


After hearing the words, points, playoffs over and over again, I changed the channel and watched football yesterday, along with doing chores with the radio broadcast and scanner on (plus twitter) to follow the event. I say event, because IMO that wasn’t by any stretch something that could be called a race.

I’m very glad we didn’t bother to go to Dover this weekend. At least from home I can get other things done while being bored.

I don’t know if NASCAR is aware of anything the fans think, Bill B. I think they are clueless and oblivious to anything but the $$ coming in.

I wish and hope for the best for anyone in the flooded areas.


Points points Chase points Chase, they didn’t even bother to cover the race. It looks like Larson ran well and Stenhouse had a career day but the broadcast booth did not let the anything interfere with the CONSTANT chase Chase points points. As far as the current product goes it seemed like a decent race. I wonder if the few thousand people in attendance ( minus the booth) had a better experience?


Listen, I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the last couple of Nascar seasons. I now know all the English Premier League teams by the color of their uniforms. In addition I’ve discovered how liberating it is to have every Sunday afternoon to do whatever I please.
Yep, its all good.


i wonder, if the anemic attendance was solely to blame on the weather. that looked like a monday after rain out bunch of fans in the stands.


no, I would say it is due to the anemic racing that has changed the “monster” into a pussycat. I know I’ve said this before, but the past 5 years going to races at Dover made me want to lay down on the benches (and there is usually plenty of room) and take a nap DURING the race. That should NEVER happen at a race!! We finally decided after last September that we were officially done.


Dover, another track I’m looking forward to seeing the “low-downforce” package on. Not much of a race aside from following the points situation. In honor of Jimmie getting knock-out, I can say my Chase Bracket is now “BOOM Confetti”!

Kevin in SoCal

How can 13-16th race for 5th when 1st-12th get their points raised out of reach of the eliminated 4 drivers? And then 1st-8th will get their points raised out of reach of 9th-12th in the next round.

You mentioned that twice, so I have to ask.

Bill B

Once a driver is eliminated their points get reset back to what they would have been without a chase (your Richmond points + all points earned in the chase races). So, the only chase guys guaranteed to finish in the top 4 are those who qualify for the Homestead lottery,


Plain and simple…that race SUCKED. NASCAR has sucked all the manufactured excitement right out of it. Current rule package, hard tires that do not wear out, concrete surface, and a lack of practice all contributed to another SNOOZER. I am not the only one that turned off the TV… from the fast over night ratings, a 1.8! down from 2.1 from last year. 1.8! Fans are turning off their TV’s and not watching the abomination that BZF has done to his Father’s and Grandfather’s organization.


The NBC national stations showed Volleyball (men’s so I didn’t watch) and RallyCross from Barbados. Pastrana was racing in the series and got a ride in the truck series. So if you want a chance at a ride get some exposure in the RallyCross series on real stations. It sure beats NA$CAR on NBCSN. Scott Speed and Nelson Piquet, Jr. are in the series too.

Capt Spaulding

Only thing worse than being there and paying to see that motor event, would be staying at home and watching and listening to the NBC broadcast. I tried a couple of minutes, switched to QVC for some excitement and unfortunately bought the SERTA mattress buy of the day…….at least I will be ready for next year if the off season stirs my interest. PS..anyone else go to Tx Roadhouse steaks, note all the memorabilia, including a Jr. BUD car, but no TV tuned to the action packed racing, instead NFL, Soccer, and Volleyball…….really Volleyball.


they were showing volleyball? on the main NBC station — oh my heavens!

Hope that the mattress is a good one – at least you can have a comfortable snooze this winter.


i’m feeling pretty good today.
Made good on my promise not to watch.
Enjoyed a fantastic norcal day with the mrs.
caught upon the results and wondered how a guy who never ran well at dover suddenly runs away with the race?
then i remembered it was nascar and felt even better about not wasting my time.
charlotte next week??…
the nascar event, not the web.
no thanks


oh and not listening to the broadcast and the adversisements?
i think i actually gained a couple of IQ points

Carl D.

I dunno… those Hardee’s commercials with the girls playing volleyball we’re more exciting than the race.

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