Dover is already crazy, and the race is yet to come

September, 26, 2009

DOVER, Del. -- Let's straighten out a few issues from Dover International Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is ranked 21st in points and has had trouble finding his own pit box this season, told a reporter that David Reutimann, who is 16th in points and a contender to make the Chase until the final cutoff, needs to "polish up his craft."

Greg Biffle said it was an unfair advantage that Chase drivers -- he didn't mention names, but we should assume he's talking about Friday's pole-winner Jimmie Johnson and second-fastest Juan Pablo Montoya -- were allowed to participate in a tire test at Dover even though the test occurred a month before the 12-driver field was set.

Brian Vickers said the best way to make pit road safer is to get rid of it altogether, or maybe not race real cars at all, "just play video games."

OK, so Vickers' comment was tongue-in-cheek.

But it's been that kind of a crazy weekend so far at Dover, and it likely will get crazier before the second race of the Chase concludes Sunday afternoon.

Let's get Earnhardt and Reutimann out of the way first. Earnhardt obviously was upset that he had a car capable of at least a top-5 finish last weekend at New Hampshire before Reutimann lost control and sent him into the wall.

Reutimann admitted he made a mistake. He looked NASCAR's most popular driver in the eye and said he was sorry.

But Earnhardt still criticized him after the race and did so again at Dover. Just a guess, but this has to do more with frustration from a disappointing season for Earnhardt than Reutimann, or one wreck.

"He definitely hasn't had the kind of season I'm sure he would like," Reutimann said Saturday. "A lot of us haven't. He obviously had a very good racecar. When you get taken out, that's not going to sit very well with you.

"I can't blame him, but I've been hand-whipped pretty hard this week. … You can only talk about somebody for so long before you get tired of it. That's kind of the point I'm at right now."

For the record, Reutimann didn't comment on how many times Earnhardt has missed his pit stall this season. He also didn't note that he qualified fifth this weekend and his chief critic will start 24th.

Now for the tires. The new compound Goodyear brought to the "Monster Mile" has some drivers and crew chiefs scratching their heads for the right setup.

Denny Hamlin, whose teammate Kyle Busch was one of eight drivers who participated in the earlier tire test, called the tires "just crap, really" and insisted that cars will slide all over the place.

"From what I hear they didn't bring back the tire that everyone liked," he said. "Same as Atlanta. They keep increasing the stagger in the tires, and it just keeps making guys loose in and loose off [the turns].

"They won't listen to us drivers, so I don't know why we even tire test these tracks anymore."

Apparently, Goodyear listened to Johnson, who suggested the tire manufacturer bring a combination that would put more mechanical grip in the car and let teams "back off some of the crazy setups we are running and tighten these cars up."

But if testing is such a big advantage, how do you explain the fact that Johnson wasn't one of what he called the "75,000 cars" that tested at Indianapolis and won the race?

"There is no doubt there is an advantage to it, but we overcame that at Indy and didn't have a chance to test there," he said.

In other words, everybody stop complaining.

Biffle should have more pressing worries. Although he qualified fourth, his four Roush Fenway Racing teammates qualified 21st or worse, and Bobby Labonte, using Roush Fenway equipment, was slower than only two cars.

What's alarming about that is the No. 71 Labonte drove last week at New Hampshire qualified 18th with David Gilliland.

"That constitutes how poorly we're doing [our] job [as well as] that Yates organization across the street," Biffle said. "We all have the same equipment and we're just not getting it done."

At least Biffle finally explained why the Roush cars are struggling. Apparently, it's all about corner speed.

"Let me explain that," he said. "There's two ways of getting a car to turn around the corner. One is the car turns with the front tires when you turn the steering wheel, it turns with the front tires, and it turns around the center of the corner … you can push the gas down and off you go.

"The second way is if the front tires don't turn, they slide up the race track -- you cannot get them to turn. The only thing you could do is loosen the car up, take wedge out, do whatever you could do to try and get the back of the car loose enough to where you go around the corner with the back of the car turning. So the back of the car is sliding around the corner, almost, if you will, like a forklift."

And a forklift, he says, turns with the back tires and not the front. He says drivers have run faster on seven cylinders than the Roush cars because their corner speed is faster.

That's crazy.

And then there was real crazy, when Vickers was asked if crew members deliberately run out in front of other cars to slow them down on pit road.

"I can assure you that I'm trying to avoid people on pit road because I don't want to hurt anybody," he said.

Well, that's good to know.

That's when Vickers went from making pit roads wider to eliminating them to playing video games. Johnson, who was next in line for his weekend press appearance, seemed a bit surprised by the whole exchange.

"Everybody clear on the whole pit road deal Brian was talking about … playing video games instead of driving?" he asked as he left the media center.

Yep, we've got it all straight.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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