With some drivers Championships hopes hanging by a thread what better place could NASCAR come to help sort those title problems out than by returning to Dover International Speedway, the mile long track that goes by the much better sounding name ‘the monster mile’. With it’s up and down banked turns and its often slick concrete surface, cars often find their way either into the wall or into each other. But for the Chase contenders they will need to stay out of Miles the Monster’s grasp.
Friday afternoon’s qualifying session was an exciting affair and for the seventeenth time this season a new track record was set. With six drivers breaking the long-standing track record speed of 161.522 (set way back in 2004 by Jeremy Mayfield) it seemed that the record was almost tumbling with every driver that went out. But just over halfway through the field of 43 drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr took to the track and set a blistering time of 22.243 seconds (161.849 mph) to go to provisional pole. It looked to be good enough to start at the head of the field but as Matt Kenseth started picking up speed he looked to be a serious challenger for the top of the tree. Despite looking like he was going to just squeeze ahead of Jr as he crossed the line the Championship leader was a mere 0.006 seconds off the pole position time handing Jr his second pole start of the season.
As the green flag dropped Jr appears to get a good push from Carl Edwards who is lined up behind him and as the pack enters turn one Jr is comfortably in the lead. Edward’s good start puts him alongside Kenseth and the two of them run side by side jostling over second place. Edwards temporarily gets his nose in front but it only lasts for a lap as Kenseth comes straight back at him and effortlessly retakes second. Kenseth wastes no time in putting clear air between himself and the 99 as Edwards starts to get pressure from Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski behind him. Jr is certainly showing his speed as his lead quickly goes out to over a second and is really taking advantage of being in clear air as is second place Kenseth who is 3 seconds ahead of third place Edwards. Not everyone is having such a good run though as many drivers are complaining of being tight, for example Kurt Busch has gone from 9th to 15th and is even struggling to hold that position.
Such is the speed of Jr out front in a little under 20 laps he has already caught the last of the slower drivers and is putting them a lap down. But he is not clearing them as easily as he would hope and it allows Kenseth to very quickly wipe out the second gap between them and come up right on the rear bumper of the 88. The 20 slightly gets his nose inside the 88 and takes away the air off the 88’s rear tyres forcing 88 to slightly slide up the track and allowing the 20 to easily drive by for the lead. But Kenseth runs into the same back marker issue as Jr did and the 88 does the exact same move on Kenseth to retake the lead. Kenseth tries to come back at the 88 but can’t make a move stick and once they clear the slower cars Jr is able to pull away again. No time for Jr to establish any kind of lead as NASCAR spot debris on the track and the first caution of the day comes out. All the leading cars elect to come to pit road where even this early in the race teams try different strategies. Kyle Busch wins the race off pit road ahead of Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jr, with the top four only taking two tyres, Jr is the first car that took four new tyres.
On the restart Kyle gets a great start and is clear from the rest of the pack before they even get to turn one, it’s even a good start for Montoya who gets up to second as for some teams the two tyre call seems to have been the better choice. Newman has found some speed since the restart as he very quickly works his way up to third and then gets by Montoya for second. Clint Bowyer took a risky strategy of fuel only and is up to 5th, with early race leader Jr now back in 7th. While Kyle’s lead stretches out to over two seconds Jr’s car starts finding its early race speed as he moves up to third and starts to close down second place Newman. But he’s going to have a job to do that as lap by lap the 39 is eating into Kyle’s lead and on lap 71 Newman gets a great run out of turn 4 and goes around the outside of the 18 to take the lead.