Brant James
Monday May 16th, 2011

For 360 laps it all made perfect sense: Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards or Jimmie Johnson. Then Juan Pablo Montoya spun, bringing out the last caution. He could have ruined the front-runners' races if he'd let the No. 42 Chevrolet roll down as they passed below him. In essence, he'd unleashed their undoing anyway. Plans were devised, their undoing concocted on the subsequent pit stops. Their only consolation: they didn't get stuck with the ugliest trophy in sports.

1. Matt Kenseth and Jimmy Fennig are on the verge of something big. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion driver and crew chief of the 2004 title team with Kurt Busch are workaday, understated Wisconsinites. They do rather than talk about it. Or at least that's their preference. And they're doing quite well these days after winning on Sunday at Dover.

In their first full Cup season together, the pair has two wins and four top-5s, but an instantaneous moment of trust might come to underscore the depth and ultimately the success of their relationship. Kenseth's suggestion to take two tires instead of four on the final pit stop was quickly supported by Fennig, putting the No. 17 Ford out second and ultimately in a position to pass Mark Martin for victory.

"Jimmy made the call. I just suggested it," Kenseth said. "He made the call and told the crew to do two. I have known him for a long time and he might tell you when he grabs the mic here that he isn't comfortable with me yet, I don't know. It didn't take long for me. You go through a little bit to understand somebody about how loose is he and how urgent does he sound or whatever.

"It does take a little bit to learn that, but I have always respected Jimmy and really enjoy working for him. He has a no-nonsense racing approach, which is how I grew up racing. We have a lot of fun racing together."

And they've known that for awhile. Kenseth, a new hire at Roush Fenway in 1998, used to pepper Fennig -- then Martin's crew chief with the organization -- with questions during tests, in the garage. Wherever. They later worked together in the Nationwide Series. This partnership appears to be the closest thing Kenseth has had to the bond he shared with longtime crew chief and fellow Wisconsin product Robby Reiser, perhaps because it's nearly as old.

"I enjoy working with Matt," said Fennig, who replaced Todd Parrott last June. "This ain't the first time I have worked with him. We worked on the Busch cars and I enjoyed it back then. It takes a little while to know how you can read a guy and to know exactly what he is looking for in a race car and give it to him. I think everything is going good right now and we will keep going from there."

2. The perfect call is an imperfect science. Crew chief Chad Knaus' decision to have four fresh tires affixed to the No. 48 Chevrolet seemed the perfectly logical decision when Jimmie Johnson pitted in third place with 34 laps left. That's why Bob Osborne made the same call for Carl Edwards and Shane Wilson for Clint Bowyer.

Those three cars had combined to lead all but 13 laps to that point. Johnson and Edwards had been the class of the field all day and Bowyer was suddenly very much their equal. And the distance remaining in the race was too great to eschew the benefit of a complete tire change. The scores of cars that took just two or didn't pit -- like Mark Martin -- because they had enough fuel to go the distance figured to eventually succumb to those who employed conventional wisdom. Not this time, not in the narrow confines of the one-mile concrete Dover surface.

Johnson restarted 10th and eventually finished ninth after leading 207 of 400 laps. Carl Edwards, who led 117 laps, but took four tires also, restarted 11th and finished seventh, and Johnson said he knew he was "in trouble" once he gauged the volume of cars taking just two tires. Knaus apologized over the team radio for the call.

"At the time, we had done four [tires] all day and we saw some two [-tire stops in the Nationwide race] and it didn't pan out," Johnson said. "Four looked like the call, so I have his back, it is no big deal."

3. Marcos Ambrose is really close. The Tasmanian continues to progress on the multitude of distinct ovals on the Sprint Cup schedule, quickly becoming far more than just a road course specialist. His third-place finish gave him two top-5s for the season and moved him two spots to 20th in points, within the wild-card boundary should he be able to fall back on his road course tutelage and win his first career Cup race at either Watkins Glen or Sonoma, Calif.

"Today I'm really excited about because we had a really good day at Darlington," he said. "Didn't work our way at the end, finished 13th. Terrible luck. I'm really excited that our team is learning, they're learning me, I'm learning them. I'm learning how these cars work.

"This result today I'm really excited about because I think it's going to lead to a great Charlotte, Pocono, Indy, all these great big tracks coming. I feel like our team is suited to those tracks. We've just had some rough luck so far this year. We've had accidents and incidents outside our control that has hurt our points.

4. Clint Bowyer is the new Kevin Harvick. The bad penny persona that made Kevin Harvick such a dangerous title contender in the Chase for the Championship last season has been assumed by his Richard Childress Racing teammate. Bad pit stop? Brush of the wall? Recoverable. Certainly, a well-prepared race car and skilled driver help matters immensely, but Bowyer, in producing top-10s in seven of his last eight races, including two runner-up finishes, has demonstrated a certain resilience that puts drivers in position to contend for championships. Bowyer was as low as 36th in the running order after an early brush of the wall but rebounded to lead 29 laps and finish sixth.

"We're really working well together," Bowyer said. "Getting a little bit of confidence. Shane (Wilson, crew chief) is getting a little bit of confidence in himself. I'm getting some more confidence in myself. Just making better decisions."

5. Joey Logano's season is not getting better. The 20-year-old proclaimed before the season he was finally ready to compete for wins on a weekly basis and a Chase berth entering his third year at NASCAR's highest level. His No. 20 Toyota team at Joe Gibbs Racing finally felt like his, not Tony Stewart's old team, he said, and anything short of joining teammate Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch among the series' best would be a disappointment. He should hope he handles disappointment gracefully. Logano's Lap 20 accident was the precursor to a long and miserable day and a 27th-place finish, five laps down. Now 27th in driver points, he has just one top-10 this season (at Talladega) and finished 20th or worse in eight of 11 races.

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