2010-09-30 / Sports

Johnson Bounces Back At Dover

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

DOVER, Del. – Jimmie Johnson showed all the fans that thought his No. 48 team was washed up how wrong they were.

In addition to qualifying first, leading the most laps, he won Sunday’s Sprint Cup AAA 400 race by more than two seconds ahead of runner up Jeff Burton.

“I feel like a huge obstacle has been lifted from my shoulders,” said Johnson, who moved into second in the Chase. “We rebounded from last week. We’ve won a Chase race, and I think we did a great job today.”

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Car owner Rick Hendrick agreed with Johnson.

“I think a lot of people were counting the 48 team out,” said Hendrick. “It’s been a great day for us, and I believe everyone can see what a great team we are.”

Runner-up Jeff Burton was never able to challenge Johnson in the closing laps.

“We had a good car,” said Burton. “We didn’t have a good qualifying effort. It’s been one of those years where we’ve been really good and haven’t been able to capitalize on it.

“The 48-car was fast today. We put the pressure on him, but we couldn’t stay with him.”

The remaining top-10 finishers were Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and A.J. Allmendinger.”

Denny Hamlin’s lead over Jimmie Johnson is now 35 points.

“It was a decent day,” said Hamlin. “We didn’t have the best car, but we did what we needed to do. If we can continue to do like we did today, we’ll be O.K. Today we overcame one of our obstacle tracks. This track has bitten us before, so to leave here with the lead feels great.”

“I believe that from here on out, we’ll do better.”

Top-12 Chase leaders after 28 of 36: 1. Hamlin-5368, 2. Johnson-5333, 3. Kyle Busch-5323, 4. Kurt Busch- 5309, 5. Harvick-5303, 6. Edwards 5295, 7. Burton-5288, 8. J. Gordon-5285, 9. Biffle- 5228, 10. Stewart-5206, 11. Kenseth-5203, 12. Bowyer- 5133

Kyle Busch led 172 laps of the 200-lap Nationwide race at Dover Raceway for his 11th victory of the season. The win allowed him to surpass his mark of 10 wins in 2008, and break the tie he had for wins in the Nationwide Series with Sam Ard.

“It’s very special,” Busch said of the record. “Sam is a great individual and was a great driver in his time (early 1980s). For myself to be able to come out and compete at that level and get as many wins in a season is hard enough to do, but then to go out there and beat a record is really great.”

“From where Sam Ard was in his day and where we are today, I feel like a lot has changed in this sport, and, of course, it’s always challenging to go out and get a win on a given weekend. But for us to win 11 this year is very, very special to me, and that’s why I say it’s so special to (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and to all these guys on the team, because they’re all part of it.”

Despite a vibration that gave him some nervous moments in the closing laps, Busch beat polesitter and JGR teammate Joey Logano to the finish line by .400 seconds, marking the 11th time JGR cars have finished 1-2 in the series.

Top-10 points leaders after 28 of 35: 1. Keselowski- 4414, 2. Edwards-4094, 3. Kyle Busch-3914, 4. Allgaier- 3656, 5. Menard-3597, 6. Harvick 3423, 7. Bayne-3261, 8. S. Wallace-3157, 9. Leffler- 3129, 10. Logano-3047

By now everyone knows that Clint Bowyer’s No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was found to be illegal by NASCAR after the New Hampshire race, and he was docked 150 points, dropping him to 12th in the points.

This story is not about NASCAR’s decision to penalize Bowyer, but who the real race winner should be.

The point I wish to make in this story is NASCAR allowed the win to stand, which makes no sense to me.

After Bowyer’s win, some drivers came up and gave the 33 car “love taps” to congratulate him. As most winners do, Bowyer did a burnout that was shortened because he ran out of fuel. A large tow truck pushed his car to victory lane.

Before and after the race the car went through technical inspection and the template clearance was passed. The car passed post-race inspection and was then taken by NASCAR to its Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., where it underwent additional testing.

Here’s where the rub comes in. It was discovered that the left rear of the car was 60 thousands of an inch too high. That is a little less than a 1/16th of an inch. It is about the thickness of a quarter. Remember the love taps on the track? Remember the tow truck? Was the car touched after it went to NASCAR’s R&D center?

You and I, and all the other race fans will never know.

Bowyer and Childress pleaded their innocence in front of a packed media center at Dover International Speedway this past week, but NASCAR has not backed off.

Bowyer discounted how a fraction of an inch in height disparity could give his car a performance advantage.

Second-place finisher Denny Hamlin disagreed.

“You can talk about how small the thing was off and you can really try to say that 60-thousandths didn’t help him perform any better – that is a crock,” Hamlin said. “Let me tell you something. That helps a lot.”

It’s a long standing rule that goes back to the beginnings of NASCAR, that victories are never taken away even if a rules infraction is discovered. That meant Bowyer got the win regardless of whether his car was illegal or not.

Why should any team retain a victory if they had cheated? I understand the logic that the fans at the track left knowing Bowyer had won the race, but does it make it right that his team did it by not following the rules? It has happened so often in the history of this sport that it probably is not on the mind of most fans, but does that make it right?

Just last week, football player Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, had to return his trophy because the NCAA decided that his college team, the University of Southern California, had violated some recruiting rules that year.

It’s time for NASCAR to get tougher. If the winning car is found to be illegal, grant the victory to the second place car. Nothing else makes any sense.

Childress has appealed the penalty, and the appeal will be heard on Wednesday.

Weekend racing: The cup and Nationwide teams are at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. The trucks do not race again until October 23.

Sat., Oct. 2, Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300, race 29 of 35; starting time: 3 p.m. ET; TV: ESPN2.

Sun., Oct. 3, Sprint Cup Price Chopper 400, race 29 of 36; starting time 1 p.m. ET; TV: ESPN.

Racing trivia question: Which two drivers ended their NASCAR Cup careers in 2005?

Last week’s question: When was the 10-race Chase for the championship instituted? Answer. 2004 was the first season the new format was used.

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