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Monday, June 1, 2009

Thrilling Stewart-Johnson battle at Dover among the year’s best racing

Now that was a finish.

I was ready to write this race off as another snoozer, as Jimmie Johnson decided he would take a joy ride at Dover while the rest of the field fought for second.

But a late caution and a long pit stop by Johnson set up what turned out to be the best finish of the year.

At first, it looked like Johnson was out for the count.
First, the question was whether Tony Stewart would catch Greg Biffle, and Johnson was catching up to him at the same time. Then, it was a Stewart-Johnson battle for the lead, and they danced for about five laps, oh so close, damn near wrecking each other at times.

My wife thought I was going to have a heart attack as I reacted loudly to every pass attempt and block, not knowing who was going to come out on top.

That’s the kind of racing that makes people like the sport, and I hope to see more of it this year. The rumor is that double-file restarts will come to Cup starting as soon as Pocono next week, and that should held increase the likelihood of more exciting racing.

In the end at Dover, the best car won. Johnson was the class of the field, but that didn’t mean he was a lock to win the race. By coming through the field like he did and passing some great drivers, he proved why he is the three-time defending champion, and why he will be the favorite to win the Cup again this year until someone takes it from him.

Stewart does deserve a big round of applause. He almost won his first points race as an owner-driver, and is now leading the points. That doesn’t mean anything now, but it still deserves recognition. I doubt even Stewart himself thought his new venture at Stewart-Haas Racing would be so successful right out of the gate. It goes to show that when the right people are involved, even risky ventures tend to work out properly.

Not bad start for Jr.-McGrew combo
After a week that was intense and at times difficult for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the first week with new crew chief Lance McGrew was pretty impressive.

Jr. ended up 12th, on the lead lap. He didn’t contend for the win, but that’s still a solid showing and a step in the right direction for the #88 team. He even passed Kyle Busch competitively on the track, and I can’t remember the last time that happened.

This summer stretch, where Junior has often struggled in the past, will now determine whether he can make a miraculous run back to Chase territory (he’s a couple hundreds points out, so it’s unlikely, but possible), or will drift further back in the point standings.

Logano quietly improving
We haven’t really heard Joey Logano’s name much on the Cup race broadcasts lately, and that’s fine with him. During the past six races, he has finished 9th, 19th, 9th, 8th, 9th and 15th.

In the eight races prior, he had only one finish in the top-20 and flirted with falling out of the top 35. Now, he has climbed into 23rd in points, just 304 points behind 12th place Mark Martin. The Chase is probably a pipe dream, as he would have to be almost perfect to make it, but it’s not unlikely that he could be reach the top-15 by year’s end if he can continue the quick learning curve he’s developed this spring.

Save of the day
Dover polesitter and last week’s winner David Reutimann should have ended the day in the garage after David Stremme spun directly into his path late in the race. He turned the steering wheel so far left I’m surprised it didn’t come off, and slid out of Stremme’s way just in time. Many drivers would have wrecked in that situation, and the move is further proof that Reutimann is the real deal. If he ends up sneaking into the Chase, that save might be the move that got him in.


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