1 – Clean air still king: Even at a high-banked 1-mile oval where tire wear is critical and aerodynamics are less of a factor, maintaining position again was more important than fresh rubber when it mattered most Sunday. Under caution with 20 laps remaining and only 11 cars on the lead lap, it seemed a no-brainer that everyone would pit – and then it seemed a forgeone conclusion that severe misfortune awaited the two drivers who didn’t. But despite tires with 50 more laps of wear, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick still finished 1-2. In becoming a 10-time winner at the concrete oval, Johnson easily withstood challenges from Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 131 lap) on the final three restarts. It’s been an ongoing theme this season that the leader has a virtually insurmountable edge when at the point, even when under siege by a seemingly much faster opponent (witness Harvick being unable to seize first from Denny Hamlin in the All-Star Race two weeks ago). But while this isn’t a stunning development at 1.5-mile tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s a disconcerting development at Dover, where fresh tires usually have made a decided difference in speed. In the wake of NASCAR meeting with several drivers Saturday night to discuss the next season’s direction and how to improve competition, this has become a prominent concern and should be the primary focus of building the 2016 rules package. Truex noted his car “wasn’t right” all day but could stay in front just by virtue of better handling from avoiding traffic. Aerodynamics and downforce are necessary evils of auto racing, but it’s imperative the Gen 6 becomes more adaptive in traffic.
2 – Crumbling down: Dover International Speedway has reinvested in the property with several capital improvements in recent years, replacing the catchfence for this season, adding SAFER barriers and widening and lengthening its pits. Now it might be time to work on a surface that is two decades old. For the third consecutive NASCAR weekend, the track faced problems with loose concrete. A year ago, a large chunk stopped the June race after heavily damaging Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet. Another patch was needed last September between the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races. On Sunday, it was a pothole in Tony Stewart’s pit that had crew members and track workers scrambling to remove several pieces of concrete. While Dover should be commended for its commitment to keeping up with the times (removing the Turn 2 grandstands and adding medical amenities for fans also were good moves), it’s becoming clear that its concrete needs attention, if not a complete makeover. While the repaving of asphalt tracks around the tracks have been regarded as a scourge that has contributed to high-speed, single-groove racing, concrete is an entirely different story. NASCAR can’t afford another major interruption when the circuit returns to Dover in September with a Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination race. What will happen if a title contender desperately seeking a victory to advance to the second round is undermined by inferior infrastructure?
3 – Dover dumps Denny … again: Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin went to a sports psychologist three years ago for help in how to approach Dover, where he admittedly wasn’t on top of his game. He might be primed for a repeat visit after Sunday’s race. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started on pole and led a career-best 118 laps on the 1-mile oval with a No. 11 Toyota that often seemed the class of the field in the race’s first half. But he barely was a factor after getting shuffled into traffic, and when he finally climbed into the top five for a restart with 16 laps remaining, he was punted into the wall by Clint Bowyer. Hamlin actually seems to be improving at Dover even if his results aren’t – he has qualified first in three of the past seven races there but yet has an average finish of 20th when starting on the pole.
Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.
The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.
NBC SPORTS NASCAR POWER RANKINGS
(Previous ranking in parenthesis)
1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.
2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.
3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.
4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.
5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.
6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.
7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.
8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.
9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.
Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)
Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.
Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.
Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.
Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”
Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”
Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.
“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.
“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”
Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”
Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.
The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.
Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:
The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.
Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:
Kyle Busch — Wins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.
Ryan Blaney — His sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.
Kyle Larson — Fourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.
Daniel Suarez — His seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.
Ross Chastain — He finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.
Tyler Reddick — Rebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.