The Dover Sprint Cup race in June was the worst of the season. The Dover Cup race Sunday was one of the best of the season -- at least the end, anyway.
Maybe there is hope for the new car after all. The second time around in 2008 was the charm for the new car on the Monster Mile.
Actually, Sunday was the fourth race for the new cars at Dover, which had two races with the new car last year. So a quartet of races finally resulted in a competitive show.
This is what NASCAR officials have said all along. Give it time. The teams will figure it out after they take the car to each track for a couple of races.
Or was Dover just a fluke, with three drivers from one team putting on a great show in the final laps?
The positive-spin theory -- more track time will improve the racing for the new car -- will get a real test at three 1.5-mile ovals coming up in the Chase: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
Those so-called cookie-cutter ovals, the high-banked intermediate tracks, are where everyone hopes to see marked improvement in the racing with this car.
The Atlanta race in March was another true stinker in a debut event for the new car, but the tires took the blame on that one. Goodyear conducted a tire test at Atlanta last week, hoping to iron out the problems caused from using too hard a compound in March.
NASCAR also has an open test at Lowe's today and Wednesday -- the second test of the season on the suburban Charlotte track -- to help the Cup teams prepare for the Oct. 11 Saturday night race.
It can't hurt, but a return visit doesn't guarantee better racing. The second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway was worse than the first one on the 2-mile Fontana, Calif., oval.
Jimmie Johnson had an uncatchable car for the night race on Labor Day weekend, so it's possible the No. 48 teams figured it out and all the other teams didn't. But the race was awful. Two races with the new car on the same track didn't help a thing.
The Chase still has two track virgins with the new car -- Kansas Speedway this weekend and Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale.
The reconfigured Miami oval produced some quality racing in recent years with the old car. Anything less in the new car, especially in the race that decides the championship, would be a major disappointment.
Hopefully, the accumulation of data on the car from all the 1.5-mile ovals will pay off when the teams arrive at South Florida in November.
The difference in racing at Dover over a three-month span was remarkable. The June event, which was won by Kyle Busch, had only one green-flag pass for the lead on the track in 400 laps. Only six cars finished on the lead lap, and none of those drivers were fighting for position at the end.
On Sunday, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and winner Greg Biffle all shared the top spot in the last 25 laps of the race while rubbing bumpers and racing inches from each other's door panels. Sixteen cars finished on the lead lap, including nine of the 12 Chasers.
The new car was pretty darn racy when it mattered down the stretch, but all is not well just yet.
Unless the trend continues at the five intermediate tracks remaining in the last eight races, changes to the car should come next year to increase front downforce and help eliminate the need for the unpredictable bump stops on the shocks.
Dover's race was encouraging for everyone involved in Cup. The new car was OK. Can it show similar results at the tracks where the racing has suffered the most?
Allmendinger never had a chance
AJ Allmendinger is an example of what not to do when bringing a talented open-wheel racer to NASCAR. Red Bull Racing announced Tuesday that Allmendinger won't return to the No. 84 Toyota in 2009.
He never had a chance. Allmendinger went straight from Champ Car into Cup two years ago with little actual preparation and almost no experience in stock cars. It was an impossible task for a rookie driver on a new team.
The sad part of all this is Allmendinger finally has reached the point where he's competitive on the racetrack, but it happened too late to save his job.
Red Bull officials will announce later who will replace Allmendinger, but it's clear this move was made to make room for former Formula One driver Scott Speed.
The difference between the two is Team Red Bull did it the right way with Speed, allowing him to learn in ARCA and the Craftsman Truck Series for more than a year before putting him in a Cup car.
Bernstein flyin' high with Air Force signing
Keeping sponsors is a tough task in racing these days, and finding new ones in this economy is even tougher. But Kenny Bernstein has managed to sign the Air Force to a four-race deal this season as an associate sponsor on his Funny Car team, a partnership he hopes will lead to a full–time deal next season.
If anyone knows how to keep a sponsor happy, it's Bernstein. Budweiser, the primary sponsor for Kenny's Top Fuel dragster driven by Brandon Bernstein, Kenny's son, will celebrate its 30th season with Bernstein's NHRA team in 2009. It's the longest continuous sponsorship in racing.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.