Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rating the FedEx 400: 2 Stars **

The Dominator dominated Dover on Sunday to simply reinforce the fact that Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team are hands down the best there is in this era of NASCAR racing. However, dominating performances rarely make for exciting races, and Sunday was no different. The first Dover race of the season gets a 2 Star Rating.
Johnson did have one challenger at Dover: his teammate in the #24 car. Jeff Gordon led 60 laps throughout the first half of the race, but then his team remembered this is 2012 and didn’t get all of the lugnuts tight on the left rear tire during a pit stop on lap 251.
That forced Gordon to try and play a different strategy to recover and still challenge for the win, but he was only able to get back to 13th by the time the checkered flag flew.
Gordon did move up one spot to 21st in the points standings and is one point behind Juan Pablo Montoya for a spot in the top 20. But, that is certainly not where the driver with the most laps led should be in the points standings after 13 races.
This could have been a race that jumpstarted Gordon’s climb back into Chase contention, but now the pressure to be perfect the rest of the regular season continues to mount. It’s going to take quite an effort from Gordon and the #24 team to make the Chase this year.
As for Johnson, Sunday’s win added another stat to prove he is one of the all-time great NASCAR drivers. He has now won at Dover, which many drivers consider one of the toughest on the schedule, seven times. That ties him with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most wins at the Monster Mile.
This was Johnson’s 57th career win and his second of the season (third if you include the All-Star Race). Maybe it’s coincidence, but ever since Johnson won the Southern 500 at Darlington to get the 200th victory for Hendrick Motorsports, the entire organization has taken its performance to another level.
Perhaps there was pressure to win #200. That type of pressure obviously affects athletes in other sports when they approach a major milestone, but it is a little more surprising for it to affect an entire racing organization.
Either way, Hendrick Motorsports is once again on quite a roll. That could make for a long summer for the rest of the garage. Right now Roush-Fenway Racing has the top two spots in the points standings and is most likely the biggest threat to stop another Hendrick championship this season, but they have a lot of work ahead of them.
Oh, by the way, there was a wreck in Sunday’s race and it still didn’t get more than a 2 Star Rating. Sure, it was the biggest wreck of the season, but most of the cars involved were start-and-parkers. The wreck just parked them all at the same time.
Besides that wreck on lap 9, the remainder of the race was as clean as the rest of the season. The racing will get better at some point, but it is unlikely to get significantly better anytime soon. The upcoming tracks don’t usually produce thrilling racing, and there is little reason to think it will be any different this summer.
That said, these races are still a vital part of the schedule. June has always been a crucial month in the NASCAR season. The tracks, including Dover, challenge equipment more than most, and it is a time for teams to sharpen their setups as the Race to the Chase approaches.
Now it’s on to the first 400-mile race in the history of Pocono Raceway. I don’t see how shortening this race by 100 miles will make it any more exciting, but we’ll see. The only difference might be that fewer cars drop out because of mechanical issues.
Have a great week, everybody, and brace yourselves for what might be another summer dominated by Hendrick Motorsports. It sure is shaping up that way.

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