We're three races into this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup and Brad Keselowski has won two of them, thus establishing himself as a serious contender for the championship.
By taking the checkers in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway—thanks to a gutsy fuel mileage call by crew chief Paul Wolfe—Keselowski took the points lead for the second time in the Chase, after briefly giving it up last weekend in New Hampshire. With Dodge on the way out of the sport and owner Roger Penske still never having won a Cup title, he could be on the verge of writing history for both organizations.
So what did we learn at Dover about this year's title fight?
There are only three drivers really left in this championship race
Their names are Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, and they have all the momentum going into Talladega. Keselowski established himself as the front-runner of the week after pit strategy gave him the Dover victory, but any of these drivers can hold that honor after any given race. All three teams are operating at maximum potential right now.
Having the best crew chief is as important as ever
That's a big part of the reason why Johnson (with five-time champion Chad Knaus) and Hamlin (with defending champion Darian Grubb) are there, but it's also why Keselowski, under the guidance of Paul Wolfe, has two race wins. The former Evernham Motorsports development driver has thrived atop the pitbox, helping Keselowski stretch a light fuel load long enough to not only win, but burn out and drive it to victory lane.
Being the best driver in the regular season still doesn't pay off
Just ask Greg Biffle, whose struggles in the past few weeks have removed him from this title fight. While championships were formerly won with strong runs in the middle of the season, the right time to get hot is August, and that's about when drivers like Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. began to cool down.
Jeff Gordon's performance is giving merit to a separate points system for Chase drivers
With finishes of third and second in the past two races, Gordon should be in the center of the Chase fight. Instead, he's actually lost points to the leaders in each of those events, as both Hamlin and Johnson beat him in New Hampshire and Keselowski finished ahead of him in Dover. Theoretically, if every driver gets a mulligan race in the Chase, we won't know until November just how badly that stuck throttle at Chicago impacted his Chase hopes. However, this team seems to be the "best of the rest" despite ranking 10th in points.
This Chase really misses Kyle Busch
Giving up the lead on lap 390 to pit for fuel and coming home without a win despite dominating the race should have been a huge story—with an interesting post-race interview. Except, as Busch explains it, nobody came to interview him:
Plenty to talk about. Nobody was at my hauler. Changed clothes, talked to Dave and went to bus. 10+ min to find me. Blame someone else!
- both tweeted by Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) September 30, 2012
That wouldn't have been the case had Busch been in the Chase, but instead ESPN was too busy chasing down the 12 drivers still eligible for the championship. It's disappointing for the fans and for the non-Chase competitors who may need to make their way to victory lane to get a word in on television.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.