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The 'Stealth Bomber' strikes again: Matt Kenseth in an upset at Dover

  A jubilant gambler, Matt Kenseth (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   DOVER, Del.
   So who really did have the better car here Sunday, Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards?
   In the end that became just an academic question.>

   For the better part of three hours Johnson and Edwards battled ruthlessly around this mean and tough high-banked concrete one-mile…only to get outfoxed in the final miles.
   And Matt Kenseth, who triggered the winning strategy, is laughing all the way to the bank.
   Johnson and Edwards, who led 324 of the 400 miles of the Dover 400, were facing a late charge by Clint Bowyer, on what turned out to be a warm and sunny afternoon at Dover International Speedway. Then Juan Pablo Montoya, with a solo spin off slippery turn four, set in motion the final round of pit stops under yellow with less than 40 miles to go.
   The book said take four tires.
   And Johnson, Edwards and Bowyer, and most the others still in the hunt all dutifully took four.
   But Kenseth….
   "I was sitting on the track and thinking that we should stay out and get clean air, and try it…because I knew we wouldn't win if we took four," Kenseth said after pulling off the unexpected victory.
   "Jimmy (Fennig, his crew chief, new this season with Kenseth, but a cagey veteran who has been a NASCAR tour star for some 25 years) wanted four.
   "But as I was driving down pit road I thought maybe we could compromise. While I was on the jack, I asked if he was sure we didn't want to try two…and he said to put on two.
    "It was really Jimmy's call, and just a suggestion by me."

    Matt Kenseth gives the Dover crowd a good victory burnout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "That was all Matt," Fennig said. "He figured we needed to have clean air, and he called two tires, and we did two, and away we went."
    "But it was tough to pass on that rubber out there," Kenseth said, explaining part of his thinking.
    Goodyear may opt for a different tire next time, with drivers complaining – again here – about excessive rubber buildup.
    "That rubber was awful," Kenseth said. "It has been like that the last three times here (Goodyear brought the same tire back it used here last season).
     "It was really a hindrance for me more than other people. I could really run fast on a green track, but when the sun came out and the rubber started piling we went backwards."
    The weather changed dramatically during the three-hour-plus race, early misting rain giving way to sunny skies.
    "I think the sun affected the rubber more than the concrete, and it got really slick," Kenseth said. "It was a challenge, and we had our hands full all day."
   Indeed Mark Martin, who also gambled on just two tires at the end, and finished second, called the track, with the excessive rubber buildup "almost dangerous.
   "Before that last caution came out I felt like it was dangerous. I just didn't feel like I could pass anyone without getting in a wreck…unless they allowed you to clear them.
    "You couldn't run side-by-side."


Jack Roush is getting plenty of champagne this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Johnson, like many, seemed surprised the way it all played out.
    "I guess in our minds we didn't think that would take place -- so many guys taking two," Johnson, ninth, said.
    "It was certainly the call.
    "I knew, basically from the numbers (five men taking only two), we were in trouble when we left pit road and there were so many guys in front of us.
    "We led a lot of laps (more than half the race). But unfortunately not the one at the end that counted."
   Johnson said he too had trouble getting grip:  "We couldn't really get hold of the track the longer the day went on. But we got some good ideas coming back."
    Unless Goodyear engineers also have good ideas for the September race here. And Goodyear's chief tire designer, Rick Campbell, was up and down pit road all afternoon watching.
     So in the end it was track position beating four fresh tires.
     Food for thought.
     "There at the end I really think it was just dirty air and track position the issue why the four-tire guys couldn't get through," Johnson said. "You are just going so fast around here -- even though it is just a one-mile track -- that clean air makes a huge difference."
     Which may beg the question why NASCAR doesn't slow these speeds, which could make for better racing, and which certainly take some of the aero-dependency out of the racing equation. That issue of too much speed is an issue at several tracks, such as Darlington.
    Johnson didn't second-guess crew chief Chad Knaus: "We had done four all day. And we saw some two (tire stops in Saturday's Nationwide race) that didn't pan out.
    "Four looked like the call. So I have his back."
    Kevin Harvick, one of three Richard Childress drivers in the heart of the hunt, though finishing 10th, was also thinking four tires the way to go at the end.
   Gil Martin, Harvick's crew chief: "We came in and got four…and obviously it is easy to say we should have stayed out."
   That was what Mark Martin did, declining to pit, preferring to keep track position, and winding up the leader of the race for the final restart with 34 miles to go. At the green Martin held the lead only two laps before Kenseth got by him and took a commanding lead.
    Gil Martin was surprised: "But I really thought with 35 laps to go, considering the guys who were going to be up front like that (men who hadn't been a major factor until then), the (four fresh) tires were going to blow through them.
    "And it would have caused a caution if you didn't have tires (as slick as the track was); you were going to be in big trouble.
    "But the way it played out, it was a perfect storm for the guys that stayed out.
     "You live and learn, and sometimes you gamble different ways.
     "Clean air is so good. But everybody was looking at 35 laps to go. If there were 20 or less, everybody would have stayed out.
    "Man, I tell you, it's getting to be where you can't come on pit road at all."

    After the race NASCAR announced it was taking a lot of cars and engines back to the Charlotte R&D center for further inspection:
    Kenseth's Ford and Brad Keselowski's Dodge (he finished 13th) will undergo further inspection, as so will the engines of those two and the David Stremme engine. That's pretty much pro forma. However NASCAR also announced it would be dyno testing engines too, picking Johnson's Chevy, Harvick's Chevy, Keselowski's Dodge, Kyle Busch's Toyota, Martin Truex Jr.'s Toyota, and Edwards' Ford. There have been hints that perhaps the Dodge engines aren't as strong as the other three makes. And there has been a question about the Toyota engines build by the company's TRD operations and the engines built in-house at Joe Gibbs, for Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

   Four tires was the 'book.' But two tires won the race. Carl Edwards, here, may have had the best car in the field, but he wound up seventh. Still, that's good enough to hold the Sprint Cup points lead heading into the NASCAR All-Star break at Charlotte (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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