NASCAR at Dover notebook: Rough finish at Monster Mile for teammates Bowyer, Almirola

Matt Kenseth in a late race pit at the Monster Energy Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Clint Bowyer hated the fact that he was out of the race.

But he was even more disappointed what it meant for his teammate.

When Bowyer wrecked on the 393rd lap of the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway, it brought out a late caution. That late caution ended up costing Stewart-Haas racing teammate Aric Almirola the race.

Almirola came down pit road with seven laps to go and decided to take four tires. Chase Elliott and a few other cars stayed out under caution, which proved to be the right call as Elliott won his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

“I’m just sick for Aric,” Bowyer said after the race. “He had that race won. It was his win and unfortunately his teammate had trouble and took him out of it.”

Kevin Harvick’s gas can man fill the number 4 car during late race out action at the Monster Energy Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Special to the Delaware State News/Pete Hinson

Almirola wound up 13th and Bowyer finished 35th after running in the top-five for most of the day.

Bowyer was forced to pit with what he thought was a loose wheel in the last 20 laps. When he came back on track a few laps later, he lost control and slapped the wall in Turn Four.

“We broke and hit the wall,” Bowyer said. “I’m just really disappointed. I’m frustrated with our day obviously, we had a very fast race car.”

The late-race problems for the two puts them below the cutoff line to advance to the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

Eight drivers move onto Round Three. Almirola and Bowyer currently sit tied for ninth, 10 points behind No. 8 Ryan Blaney.

Johnson’s woes continue

Jimmie Johnson provided a shocking moment when he drove his No. 48 Chevrolet into the garage area after his race car suffered a lower ball joint failure on its right-front before the Gander Outdoors 400 even took the green flag.

Johnson’s pit crew made repairs to his car but he didn’t get back onto the racetrack until the 10th lap, a distant 10 laps behind the leaders.

Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, has driven to a record 11 victories at Dover International Speedway but is currently mired in a 53-race winless streak.

Surprised starter at Dover

Monster Energy Series driver Kevin Harvick brought quite a surprise to Michael Kelly, a tech sergeant at Dover Air Force Base, when he visited him prior to the Gander Outdoors 400.

Harvick presented TSgt. Kelly with a green flag and asked him to be the honorary starter for Sunday’s race, surprising the airman, his wife Tiffany and children Cassidy and Michael.

TSgt. Kelly, a native of Afton, New York, is preparing to leave for the Middle East in two days for his 13th deployment.

“We appreciate everything you do for our country,” Harvick said. “So, we’re going to ask you to be the honorary starter for today’s race.”

A surprised TSgt. Kelly grinned and Harvick and said, “I just hope I don’t drop it. This is really cool.”

Col. Matthew E. Jones, vice commander of the DAFB 436th Airlift Wing, let Gander Outdoors and Dover International Speedway officials know about his passion for NASCAR.

“First, he is a diehard NASCAR fan,” Col. Jones said. “He has a reserved RV camping spot set aside to enjoy the NASCAR race this weekend. He is a huge Kevin Harvick fan, as is his 9-year-old son (Michael).

“He is a C-17 Electo-Environmetal Craftsman. He has been in the Air Force for 18 years. He is deploying to the middle east two days after this race, so this is his last weekend with his family before he departs for his 13th deployment.”

Dover was also represented by members of the Calvary Baptist Church in pre-race ceremonies as the church’s Combined Choir performed a stirring rendition of the National Anthem while two U.S. Navy T-45C Goshawk’s buzzed the speedway.

Notes

There were 15 lead changes among eight different drivers. The race featured just five cautions, including the two for the end of the first two stages, for a total of 31 laps. … Denny Hamlin’s second-place finish was his 11th top-10 at Dover. Joey Logano, who came in third, also earned his 11th top-10 at Dover. … Erik Jones’ fourth-place finish was his best ever result in the Cup Series at Dover. … Will Byron finished 19th for the highest finishing rookie.

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