One race. That's all it took to alter the championship picture severely. Just when we thought things had settled down and the true Cup contenders were emerging, Dover threw us a curveball. The AAA 400 proved to be a thrilling one, as two more drivers are virtually out of the running for NASCAR's top prize. But there are also now multiple drivers who are now in the thick of it.
Unlike last week at New Hampshire, there was no pre-race controversy. Everything went smoothly as drivers and their crews prepared for the green flag. Once the race was underway, it became clear that Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kurt Busch were among the favorites to win. They had their setups downpat, and were pulling away. It would stay this way in a race mired by long green-flag runs.
The first caution occurred on lap 5, when Denny Hamlin made contact with A.J. Allmendinger's left-rear f... I mean, what a save!!! As the ESPN announcers said, it is probably the save of the year. Heck, might even be the save of the past couple years. That's something I've never seen before. It gives a great tribute to A.J.'s talent. Not many drivers would have been able to keep their car spinning out in a situation like that.
But it didn't take long for some more big action to occur. On just lap 12, Dale Earnhardt Jr. reported that he might have a tire going down. It soon became clear that the problem was much more than that. Ten laps later, Steve Letarte concluded that the No. 88 was suffered a broken sway bar. Dale came in, got a new sway bar, and left. He had an eventful day, then going multiple laps down. He would eventually finish 24th, two laps down.
As all of you know, Kurt Busch won in dramatic fashion over Jimmie Johnson. I was surprised so many drivers took 2 tires on the last stop. There were still 45 laps to go, I would have taken 4. But I guess it paid off for Busch, JJ, Edwards, and many others, so I won't argue with that. The first guy who took 4 was Matt Kenseth, who restarted 11th. He worked his way up to the top 5 before the checkered flag fell, but no one else with 4 tires came even close. So I won't argue with the teams who took 2 tires.
I am SHOCKED by Jimmie Johnson's performance. I knew he would make up some ground in this race, but jump up to 5th in points, just 13 behind leader Kevin Harvick??? Wow. I posted on Snusser's article that I was skeptical about JJ's chances. I guess I should never underestimate Five-Time.
I think it's safe to say that along with Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Dale Jr. are out of the championship picture. Earnhardt, in 10th, is now 34 points behind, with Newman at 41. In 9th is Jeff Gordon, and he's just 19 behind. Oh, and Woody.......guess which driver is now in 10th??? Looks like that pre-Chase prediction might be correct!!!
Speaking of predictions, here's an update of my Chase picks. BTW, a plus sign and number by the driver's name means that that certain driver is however many positions up in the real standings from where I predicted him to be in mine. A minus sign means the same thing, just that the driver is worse than I expected him to be. A zero in parentheses means the driver is right where I predicted him to be. Remember, these will change weekly:
Well, I am MUCH closer than I was last week. Throughout the first 3 races, I've gotten closer and closer to the actual thing every time. And it will probably be closer next week, as the top 9 drivers are separated by just 19 points. That's action right there.