3 June 2013
Stewart wins Dover after dominant cars fall by the wayside
Tony Stewart claimed his first win of a hitherto under-par 2013 season at Dover International Speedway after engine issues, mechanical problems and penalties beset the top runners.
Some may call it a lucky win, but Tony Stewart's had enough bad luck so far in 2013 that he'll take it however it comes. When the opportunity came to benefit from the misfortunes of other drivers who had earlier dominated the afternoon's FedEx 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the one-mile Dover International Speedway on Sunday, he seized the chance with both hands and didn't let go until the chequered flag came out.
Denny Hamlin had started the race from pole and quickly pulled out a one second lead over Martin Truex Jr., who had to surrender second spot to Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. After 23 laps it was Busch who seized the lead from Hamlin and started to build up an even more impressive lead of nearly three seconds in short order.
Less happy with things was Danica Patrick, who after a solid start had taken right front damage from jostling with David Stremme and who needed to pit early on lap 41 to get the #10's handling sorted out. Both Richard Petty Motorsports drivers went a lap down early, and even Jimmie Johnson -struggling with a horribly loose #48 - succumbed to Busch just before his own first pit stop on lap 71. Not that the JGR trio were having it all their own way, as Hamlin missed pit road on his own stop and had to cycle around again, losing position and dropping to seventh as a result just ahead of the first caution of the day for debris on lap 79 which came after everyone had completed their first round of stops.
Busch continued to lead at the restart ahead of Kenseth, Truex, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin, while Jimmie Johnson was a lot happier after his Hendrick Motorsports crew had dialled in changes and was now in 15th and moving forward having got back on the lead lap whereas his team mate Jeff Gordon was struggling with the #24 now too tight as the race completed its first quarter. Kurt Busch has the opposite problem, the #78 Furniture Row Racing car desperately loose sending him further off the pace, making him particularly appreciative of the second debris caution on lap 127 that allowed for a new round of pit stops to put things right.
Kenseth beat Busch off pit road to lead at the restart, with Truex holding on to third as the Earnhardt-Ganassi pair of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray moving into the top six and jockeying for position with Kasey Kahne. But Kenseth's time at the top was soon over, his Toyota engine blowing which sent him on a one-way crawl to the garage on lap 160 coinciding with the third caution of the afternoon caused by debris and fluid on the track, partly from his engine failure and partly from a tyre blow-out afflicting Penske Racing's Joey Logano.
"I can't be any easier on it than I've been," said Kenseth of his engine failure. "It's just something was wrong. You know what I mean? It's not driver-induced, it's not too many miles in practice.
"I really feel like JGR has three of the strongest race teams and three of the best cars in the garage, but you've got to finish these races to win and you've got to finish races to try to win championships," Kenseth added. "Hopefully we'll have it all figured out before September," when the Chase begins.
Busch led at the restart with Truex, Hamlin, Kahne, McMurray and Montoya now joined by Kevin Harvick and a resurgent Johnson in the top eight on lap 172 as the halfway point loomed into view and the clouds built up overhead, cooling off the track and making everyone worry about pop=up showers moving into the area. As the race passed lap 200, Busch continued to lead but was struggling on his worn tyres and now firmly in the sights of a flying #48; on lap 205 the deed was done and the JGR domination was over as Johnson took charge and Busch dropped to third behind Truex. Hamlin was showing similar signs of fading, yielding fifth place to Harvick just before a round of green flag pit stops began on lap 235.
With 150 laps to go, Johnson led Truex, Busch, Hamlin and Harvick, while it was proving a depressing afternoon for the Roush Fenway Racing team with all three drivers (Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle) all having been lapped at a track they are traditionally strong at. But on lap 279, it was Truex's turn to exit the proceedings, with the second Toyota engine failure of the day bringing out the fourth caution of the race and making the remaining JGR and MWR runners increasingly nervous about their chances of surviving the remaining 121 laps - and Toyota execs watching increasingly nervous of the increasingly shaky reputation of their product in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Martin Truex Jr.
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