NASCAR

Turn out the lights – the party’s over

That was fast
Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500, kicking off 2013 in grand fashion.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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At the end of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover, the lights were turned out and the booth went dark on the 2013 NASCAR on FOX coverage. There are two things I can’t believe. The first one is this was our 13th season bringing NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage into your homes. The second thing I can’t believe is how quickly the 2013 season has literally flown by.

Just think back to January when we went to that first test at Daytona and the new Gen-6 car. There were just so many unknowns then. What was this car going to be like? Was all the hype surrounding it to be believed? With its lighter weight, more downforce and faster speeds, was this the sign of things to come for our upcoming season?

We get to Daytona and that set the tone for the season to date with history being made. Danica Patrick, in her first full year of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, sets on the pole position for the Daytona 500. That’s never happened before in our sport. Then she ran up front and finished eighth in the race setting another record for the highest finishing female ever in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Then who would have thought that Matt Kenseth, at that point in his veteran career, jumping from Roush-Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing would have such resurgence? Matt’s already won three races this season in thirteen events and quite honestly, probably would have won the Daytona 500 and Dover last Sunday. Matt is quite a character and we inside the garage area know that, so it’s been a whole lot of fun to watch him this year racing and having fun like it’s his first year in the sport.

It’s been clear these first thirteen events that both Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are the leaders in embracing this new Gen-6 car and figuring out what it likes and more importantly what it doesn’t like. In thirteen races, the two companies combined have won eight events. You could make a case that it actually is nine wins following Dover as Tony Stewart gets his chassis and motors from Hendrick Motorsports.

We’ve seen some staggering penalties this year in their severity. At the same time, we’ve also seen, in some cases, the penalties being reduced by the Review Board process. That in itself has been something new in our sport. Back in the day, when you received and appealed a penalty, you already pretty much knew your appeal was going to be shot down.

It’s been really nice to see the resurgence of Cousin Carl – Carl Edwards this year. He lost the championship in 2011 to a tie-breaker with Tony Stewart. Then last year he was all but a non-factor all season long. He went from tying for the championship the year before to not even making the Chase in 2013.

This year there has been a turnaround for him and the No. 99 bunch. He already has a win this season. plus seven Top 10 finishes in 13 events. It’s just great to see Carl back in the hunt again. He’s second in the points and obviously the leading Ford driver. He and crew chief Jimmie Fening are hitting on all eight cylinders.

Oh and lets not over-look the arguments and fights so far this season. Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin had their share of run in’s on the track and of course their Twitter War off the track. It all culminated at Fontana with those two getting together and Denny suffering a vicious wreck. It was so vicious in fact, he injured his back and had to step out of the car for over a month.

You have Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne getting together three times already this year. You had Tony Stewart go after Joey Logano in a post-race altercation. Sunday saw David Gilliland go over to Ryan Newman’s car to express his frustration after they both got wrecked out.

Clearly, this new car did live up to all the preseason hype. Actually, I believe it has exceeded it. We’ve seen blazing fast speeds. We’ve seen track records falling almost weekly now. The pace of the races is faster. The competition has been phenomenal it’s been amazing to see how this car has performed. Honestly, I still maintain these teams and drivers have only scratched the surface of what this car can do.

Now, however, it’s time for our NASCAR on FOX gang to walk away. I’ve said this before, it feels like we set everything up and then have to turn it over to someone else to knock it out of the park. I’ll be honest, I hate that feeling. I love our FOX team and I love the passion and excitement we bring to the broadcasts. We’re all just race fans like you at home and we want to share that excitement with you. What we do truly is a labor of love.

Sunday’s race at Dover was a good one. The really interesting dynamic was how some teams ran better when the sun was out while others ran better with the cloud cover. It was easily one of the better and most exciting Dover races we’ve seen in a long time. So it was a good way to close out our 2013 NASCAR on FOX portion of the television coverage.

While it is only one race, Dover could have long-reaching effects on the Chase come late September. You had Denny Hamlin trying to continue his hot streak since recovering from his back injury and possibly make the Chase. While he led 41 laps, he was in an accident and finished thirty-fourth. Unfortunately that dropped him two spots to twenty-six in the points. His goal is to get in the Top 20 as it’s one of the requirements to even be considered for qualifying for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

One of the issues that has cropped back up is the Toyota engine problem. Both Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. had legitimate shots at winning Sunday but saw that shot go up in smoke with blown Toyota motors. So that’s a critical area that Toyota has to address if they want to win the 2013 championship.

Look how this one race at Dover can possibly turn Tony Stewart’s whole season around. Let’s face it, Tony hasn’t even been close to a Top 5 finish all season long and 2013 has been dismal at best for that No. 14 car. Then to come to the one track that has given Tony so much trouble the last three years and yet pull off the win is huge.

Now that’s what you do to turn things around. You go out and win a race. I always tell you this – winning cures all ills and its true. Tony’s now jumped four spots in the points to sixteenth. He has a win under his belt now which will go a long way in propelling him into the Chase. He’ll need to get another win however, because I still maintain the threshold will be a minimum of two wins for the drivers who are vying for those two Wild Card spots. Sunday’s win for Tony and the #14 bunch simply changes everything.

You have to tip your hat to Juan Pablo Montoya and the run he had Sunday. We all know he’s won twice on a road course but desperately wants to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on an oval. It almost happened earlier this year at Richmond and then again Sunday at Dover.

Jeff Gordon was another driver that I am concerned about making the Chase. He definitely needed a great run Sunday for the points and he delivered. That third place finish jumped him four spots in the points and he now sits eleventh, just one spot out of the Top 10 where those drivers are guaranteed a spot in the Chase.

Of course the biggest controversy coming out of Dover was the restart where second place Jimmie Johnson jumped the start and beat race leader Juan Pablo back to the Start/Finish line, which on restarts is a big no-no.

I know there is all this talk buzzing around about it but it’s really not that complicated. It’s pretty cut and dried. The leader of the race sets the pace. The second place car doesn’t control that. If you take off and leave the leader in your mirror, well NASCAR is going to black flag you and that’s what they did to Jimmie.

Now Jimmie had an option. He could have slowed down going into Turn 1 and let Juan Pablo have the spot back. Had it he done that, NASCAR wouldn’t have black flagged him. It’s a really good rule. It’s not a bad rule at all. Jimmie didn’t give the position back, he got black flagged and it was the turning point on that race because he certainly had the car to beat.

It’s going to be fun to watch the comers and goers for this Chase field until the checkered flag waves at Richmond in September. I am thrilled to still be a part of things these next six weeks. I will be doing the Sunday morning NASCAR RaceDay show on SPEED. They’ll be John Roberts, myself, Kenny Wallace and Jeff Hammond bringing you all the news and notes of what’s going on in the sport.

I love doing that RaceDay show. I love working with all my buddies. So while it may be “over in Dover” for our NASCAR on FOX portion of the year, there is still plenty to do and cover on SPEED. It’s just a lot of fun and truth be told, I still get to go to the race track every week. It just doesn’t get any better than that in my book.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano

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