One week after Regan Smith's breakthrough win at Darlington Raceway, Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag in the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Qualifying was rained out, and the field was set by practice times and not by points as would have been the case in past seasons. A.J. Allmendinger started alongside, and held pace for quite some time, but the day would end up in someone else's hands.
Pit strategy came into play when in the closing segment when some drivers farther in the pack decided not to pit under yellow for fresh tires. As the laps wound down, it was Matt Kenseth who won with a two-tire strategy, followed by Mark Martin who elected not to pit and had a terrific outing.
This weekend brings us the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the highlights of the season. It isn't a points race, but it certainly is one race that every driver wants to win. The payout is huge, and the bragging rights last through the rest of the season.
First up will be a unique qualifying session where the pit crews can make all the difference in the world. Then we have the NASCAR Sprint Showdown as the first race of the evening Saturday. Whoever wins that race will advance to the All-Star Race, with a fan vote thrown in the mix as well. Finally, we have the main event: a 100-lap showdown broken into four separate segments. The All-Star race is always extremely entertaining, and this year's full field should be even better.
Sit back and enjoy the "off week" as the drivers and teams go at it for fun and prestige.
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's ill-handling car throughout much of the FedEx 400 ended up granting him his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. He is second in points and has a habit of making the best out of poor situations. With bad luck seemingly nonexistent in his vocabulary, Johnson is definitely one to fear. Hendrick Motorsports is a team you don't want to bet against when the series rolls into Charlotte. In the various incarnations of the NASCAR All-Star Race Hendrick owns six winner's trophies. Johnson earned two of those. His average finish at the track is 12.0 in the last five races, making him a potential favorite.
Martin Truex Jr. – With consecutive top-10 finishes after the Dover race, Truex may have finally overcome the bad luck that has plagued his season. He usually has quite a fast car, but pit miscues and accidents tend to ruin his day. The No. 56 team may be on the right side of the ball now, and that could spell great news for Truex's results. Michael Waltrip Racing typically earns impressive results at Charlotte. With Truex behind the wheel, the team should expect to finish strong. His average finish in the last five Charlotte races is 16.8, with one top-10 result, indicating that he could fulfill some of that potential in the next two weeks.
Kyle Busch – The weekend at Dover started off poorly for Busch with contact against the wall and an engine change that forced him to start 43rd. Those hurdles didn't pose too much of a problem for "shrub" as he was running in the top 10 after just a few cautions and plenty of green-flag pit stops. His fourth-place finish is his second top-five in the last three races. He is also third in points and hoping to take the Sprint Cup from the No. 48 team as soon as possible. Busch's average Charlotte finish in the last five races is 4.6, with three top-fives and four top-10s. Statistics don't get much better than that, and like most weeks, Busch is a logical favorite.
Kasey Kahne – Stopping on the track was not the way Red Bull wanted to see Kahne's car finish Sunday's race at Dover. It was shaping up to be a decent day for the No. 4 car, but engine gremlins had their way, ending a decent run for Kahne. Still, the Washington native earned two top-five finishes in the last three races, with three top-five starts. With a little more consistency in its finishes, this team could be in contention for a spot in the Chase for the Championship. Kahne won the 2008 edition of the All-Star race and has an average finish of 12.4 in the last five points races at the Speedway. He should be looking forward to these next two weeks in Charlotte.
David Reutimann – Sunday produced a 15th-place finish for Reutimann, which is pretty good for the season so far. His best finish this year was 13th in the Kobalt Tools 400. It might not be the best string of results to vault a driver into the Upgrade side of the NASCAR Barometer, but Charlotte has been good to the No. 00 and its driver. Reutimann clearly has the Charlotte Motor Speedway figured out. He owns a win, two top-fives and three top-10s in the last five races there. His average finish in that span is 12.4. Both 2010 races at the track provided top-10 finishes for him, and that is something that should buoy him as he heads into this two-week stretch.
Carl Edwards – Edwards' seventh-place finish in the FedEx 400 made it five top-10 finishes in a row, and eight out of the last nine. He is doing more than enough to hang onto the lead in points and has been the most consistent driver in the series so far. With all of this in his favor, your series points leader is not exactly the pied piper of Charlotte. His average finish at the track in the last five points events is 20.8 with one top-five finish and only three lead-lap finishes. Edwards is usually a good bet on most tracks, but his Charlotte record leaves a bit to be desired. If his momentum can carry him through Charlotte he should be considered the new favorite to unseat Johnson for the Cup.
A.J. Allmendinger – After respectably holding station behind Jimmie Johnson for the first quarter of the race Sunday, Allmendinger found himself in the garage with engine issues. His second-position start evaporated into a 37th-place classification. Still, the afternoon should be encouraging to the team as it continues to make strides in competitiveness. The ‘Dinger may have a had a strong start to the afternoon in Dover, but his past statistics at Charlotte Motor Speedway do not imply that another good one is forthcoming. His average finish in the last five Charlotte points races is 27.4 with just one lead-lap finish. Only failing to finish once of those five times makes the number especially disappointing.
Juan Pablo Montoya – One more disappointing result for Montoya this weekend in Dover is not going to do much to calm his aggressiveness. He has ruffled other drivers' feathers, as well as ruined his chances at better finishes with his driving style this year. It has been five races since Montoya scored his last top-10 finish, and Charlotte has not been the best arena for the Colombian. With just one top-10 finish in the last five Charlotte races, Montoya may be looking at a long few weeks. He failed to finish two of those races and was only on the lead lap at the end twice in the remaining three starts. His average finish in that time is 25.2, and Charlotte is a track his aggressive cornering style just doesn't suit.
Jeff Burton – Burton's potential in 2011 was shown Sunday afternoon in Dover. After the engine trouble he suffered in Darlington, the FedEx 400 was a welcome respite of strong running. While Dover proved to be a solid outing for the No. 31 team, and Burton did well to run as strong as he did, his potential at Charlotte doesn't reflect what he can do on other circuits. His average finish in the last five Charlotte races is 17.0. His sole top-five was a win, and that could sway some voters, but with four other finishes without a DNF bringing that average down so far, he doesn't make the most attractive wager. Save Burton for another week.
Follow @cjradune on Twitter.