Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Dover
What an ending, huh?
It's not every day that you see a black flag on the final restart of a race cost a driver like Jimmie Johnson the win. Johnson is too good and too experienced to make those sorts of mistakes.
And yet it happened in Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway, handing the win to Juan Montoya.
Or so we thought.
Tony Stewart mounted an incredible charge in the final 10 laps, passing Montoya to take his first victory at the track since sweeping both races in 2000. Now firmly in the top 20 in points, Stewart can focus on what he does best: getting hot in the summer months and mounting a charge for the Chase.
So who else had a great day at the Monster Mile, and who got devoured by Miles the Monster?
Winner: Tony Stewart
Stewart came into Sunday's race a dismal 20th in points, having only scored two top-10s all season. His Stewart-Haas Racing team was a mess, with him, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick all underachieving this season. Darrell Waltrip said early on in the Fox broadcast that he didn't know if Stewart could even win this season.
Before you knew it, Stewart was lining up fourth on the final restart. Then he was second. Then he was passing Juan Montoya for the victory.
No, the issues at SHR haven't magically evaporated. Patrick was still well off the pace on Sunday, and Newman finished way down the running order in 36th, so the team is not out of the woods as a whole yet. But if nothing else, the win is a confidence builder—for Stewart and the rest of his team alike.
Loser: Jimmie Johnson
Not unlike Carl Edwards at Richmond a couple of years ago, Johnson suffered from an incredible restart after the last caution.
Usually, drivers don't suffer in that situation, but they do when another driver beats them off of pit road during the last pit stop, as Juan Montoya did. The result: a black flag that sent the No. 48 back in the pack, taking him off the lead lap when all was said and done.
The silver lining: Because points runner-up Carl Edwards only finished 14th, Johnson's 17th-place run didn't affect him in the standings too much.
Winner: Juan Montoya
No, he still doesn't have an oval win, but Montoya's proven that he has a knack for racing at Dover. His runner-up finish on Sunday was his third top-10 at the track, as well as his second top-five run of the season.
It's not enough to put him in Chase contention, but it's certainly proof that the No. 42 team is faster than it was last year.
Montoya already has more top-10s this season than he did all of last year, and with 19 laps led at Dover, he nearly matched his total for the entire 2012 season. A faster Montoya could take both road course victories come this summer and, with them, would have hope at a Chase slot.
Loser: Matt Kenseth
Starting fourth, Kenseth had a great shot to put on a dominant performance on Sunday. Early on, he climbed his way to the lead and paced the field for 29 laps.
Unfortunately, while leading at Lap 157, smoke began pouring out of the No. 20 Toyota, ending Kenseth's day in a disappointing 40th place.
It won't kill his Chase hopes, but a finish like that never helps. Kenseth fell from third to fourth in points, giving up 23 points to leader Jimmie Johnson.
Winner: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Chip Ganassi's IndyCar team may be underachieving (who expected A.J. Foyt and Dale Coyne-owned cars to win before Ganassi this year?), but his NASCAR team of Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray showed a decent amount of speed at Dover.
McMurray may have fallen victim to mechanical failure, compromising a potential top-10 for the second week in a row, but Montoya brought home the bacon with a strong second-place run.
The switch to Hendrick Motorsports engines this season has greatly improved the team's ability to compete with the other Chevrolet teams, if nothing else.
With Denny Hamlin earning his second consecutive Dover pole and Martin Truex Jr. starting alongside him, it was proof that both Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing would have something for the field. Kyle Busch (third), Matt Kenseth (fourth) and Mark Martin (sixth) suggested that it might be more than just "something."
So much for that.
Kenseth and Truex blew up, Hamlin hit the wall with under 25 laps to go and no Toyota driver finished better than fourth. It was an anticlimactic end to what should have been a definitive race for the brand.
Winner: NASCAR's Attendance Policy
At the start of this season, NASCAR decided to end its policy of releasing official attendance numbers for every race. It's a bit of a defeatist attitude to reverse the age-old policy, but the more pressing issue is to reverse the trend of declining attendance.
It was plainly obvious at Dover that the fans just aren't coming at the same rate as they used to. Besides the large banners covering multiple sections of seating in Turn 3, there was a ton of silver visible in every on-board camera shot.
Chances are that releasing Sunday's attendance number would be a public relations disaster.
That being said, this photo of fans on the frontstretch sure does well to paint a different picture.
Loser: Dover's Future
Dover expanded to 135,000 seats in 2001.
It looked like it filled half of those seats on Sunday.
Sure, 60,000 or more people is still a huge crowd. It's more than the majority of sporting complexes in the "big four" sports can hold. But seeing that many empty seats looks bad no matter what.
As classic of a NASCAR track as Dover may be, it may benefit from demolishing some of those seats, at least enough to create some sort of demand. If not, it could follow tracks like Darlington and Atlanta to one-race status—and sooner than you might think.
It's going to be hard to top some of the stories that came out of the sport these past few months during Fox's 13-week Sprint Cup broadcast run.
Danica Patrick won the pole at Daytona. David Ragan scored an underdog win at Talladega. Kurt Busch made just about every race three times as interesting by doing what he's been doing with a single-car team.
The storylines have been phenomenal, and Fox has usually done a decent job at keeping an eye on them. (It's much more entertaining than just talking about Jimmie Johnson's 30-point lead, anyway.)
The lone exception, of course, is when Fox became the story after a sky cam cable dropped onto the track at Charlotte, but at least nobody was seriously injured by that.
Loser: Danica Patrick
Any hope Danica Patrick had to rebound from her wreck at Charlotte ended early on Sunday after an ill-handling car and contact with David Stremme. She spent the majority of the race multiple laps down and posted a dismal 24th-place finish.
The other bit of bad news for Patrick: Fox ended its 13-race broadcast run at Dover, yielding to TNT and ESPN for the rest of the season. While Fox anchors had a tendency to be patient with her—Darrell Waltrip in particular—her results thus far this season suggest that the next two broadcast teams might be a bit more critical.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.