The Autism 400 presented by Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips & Cheese at Dover International Speedway started on a good note with all four Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge Chargers in the top 10. By lap 6 however, AJ had quickly dropped back to 15th place and radioed in that the car was “incredibly loose.” As the run went on AJ maintained his position and eventually moved up the track a lane to help his drive off. By lap 26, he was the fastest car on the track and holding steady in 16th place.
The 44 car pitted from 15th position under the competition yellow at lap 31 where crew chief Sammy Johns made an air pressure adjustment as well as a wedge adjustment. A couple cars put on just two tires and AJ returned to the track in 19th position. After getting going again, AJ radioed in that the car was just a bit tighter in the center of the corner, but that he still had no drive off. Working the high side of the track seemed to help, and AJ continued to tick off top 10 lap times.
AJ came in for a green flag pit stop on lap 109 and Sammy changed 4 tires and went one round down on the track bar, hoping to give him more rear grip on gas coming off the corner. Unfortunately, NASCAR threw a debris caution in the middle of pit stops for some sheet metal that had come off the 34 car nearly 10 laps before!!! In my opinion that was a horrible call by NASCAR, and the resultant restart with half the field starting in front of the leader was a complete and utter joke.
Sammy left AJ out under the caution to try and get one of his two laps back by restarting in front of leader Jimmie Johnson, but the fresher tires of Johnson were no match for the 44 car, and AJ went a 2nd lap down right before another caution came out. From then on, AJ did everything he could to get at least one of his laps back. By lap 200, AJ was again rolling the top side and putting down the fastest laps on the track. He motored past Carl Edwards in 4th and Mark Martin in 3rd before trying to chase down the 2nd place car of Denny Hamlin.
Running the high side took its toll on Lap 224 however, when AJ jumped on the radio and reported that he had a right side flat. He came in and the team changed all 4 tires, hoping that green flag pit stops would cycle out and put them back to where they had been running. Luck was not with AJ today though, and the caution flew again on Lap 231 when 2nd place Hamlin also lost a right front tire and hit the wall hard.
With AJ now 4 laps down and no way to get them back through the Lucky Dog rule, the 44 team decided to use the rest of the race as an R & D session. Making multiple changes to the car on each stop to try and improve the handling, AJ simply stayed out of the way and took care of his equipment for the rest of the race, avoiding a few late race accidents. He brought the Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper car home in 29th place, 4 laps down.
In my opinion, this race was by no means as good as they were trying to make it on TV. There was side by side racing, but at one point the 48 car of Jimmie Johnson was nearly half a lap ahead of the second place car of teammate Mark Martin. Even as the end of the race unfolded and you didn’t know for sure if Greg Biffle or Tony Stewart might pull off a win on a strategy call, I still wasn’t impressed.
To me, good racing is when there is parity and not just one car or team dominating. I compare the race today to what the Truck races are like whenever Kyle Busch is in the field. There is no point in watching, because you know he is going to be up front leading the race all day long. He may not always end up winning, but it is still going to be a crappy race.
The only thing that made me laugh all day was the following comment from the race scanner. “NASCAR is throwing an awful lot of debris cautions today. Might be a reason why their TV ratings are down.” I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. Perhaps debris cautions were the only way NASCAR could think of to catch the field back up to the 48 car.
Let’s move on to Pocono, where AJ had a couple of top 20 runs last year. And maybe someone should send AJ a lucky horseshoe . . . just in case.