DOVER, Del. (AP) - Wrecks and pileups and torn-up cars have become a rarity in NASCAR this season.
There have been fewer yellow flags leading to lengthy, green-flag runs that can make for cleaner races.
Theories are as varied as the types of tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. Some feel drivers are more cautious and simply racing for valuable points to secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Others say the drivers are smarter and have a better feel for their cars.
``I just think guys are racing smarter,'' four-time champion Jeff Gordon said. ``When I look back through the years of my experiences in this sport there have just been certain drivers that you always seem to see in cautions. I think the quality of the drivers and the way they are using their heads (has helped).''
Gordon said there is plenty of evidence of side-by-side racing that could spark wrecks and bring out the caution. It just hasn't happened much.
Of course, it could just be an early-season aberration. The 1-mile concrete track at Dover International Speedway earned the nickname ``Monster'' for a reason. Racing on the concrete, it's tough to dodge the smoke, the skids and the wrecks that make the 400-mile race one of the best to watch.
There were only five cautions last weekend in the Coca Cola 600. Before that, eight at Darlington, three of which were for debris. Known for ``The Big One,'' Talladega Superspeedway went small and totaled only five cautions for 24 laps. Richmond had one competition caution, three for debris and one for a spin. Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway combined for only five cautions in consecutive races.
``I don't know where the cautions have gone,'' five-time champ Jimmie Johnson said. ``I'm glad I'm not a part of them. It's fine if it's someone else, but when it's you or your teammates you don't really dig that. I don't have the answer. I don't know where it went. I know from on the race track people may think that we are being conservative and racing for points, but that's been the nature of our sport forever.''
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BURSTING THROUGH: Ryan Truex had the pole, just not his appendix for the Nationwide Series race.
Truex raced his way to the top of the field for the first time on Saturday at Dover International Speedway almost two weeks after he needed an appendectomy. He felt sharp pain in his stomach the afternoon of May 21 and was rushed to the hospital. His appendix hadn't burst, but needed to be removed.
``I didn't think there was any way I'd be able to race,'' he said. ``I was just hoping I wouldn't have to get surgery because I really wanted to race Dover. Even after surgery, I was laying there thinking there was no way I'll be ready for Dover.''
Truex, though, felt fine when he returned to the doctor this week for a follow-up appointment. He's pain free, his stitches are gone and he was cleared to compete.
``My stomach looks a little strange, but, other than that, I'm pretty much 100 percent,'' Truex said.
Truex did not have a backup driver. He is the younger brother of Sprint Cup driver Martin Truex Jr.
The 20-year-old Truex turned a lap of 154.746 mph to take his first pole in 29 career Nationwide races.
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BERGGREN RETIRES: Pit reporter Dick Berggren will retire at the end of Sunday's face. He's worked as the lead reporter for Fox for the last 12 years.
The 70-year-old Berggren worked his first NASCAR race in 1981 and has spent most of the last four decades involved in the sport.
``He's put a lot of his heart and soul into the sport,'' driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ``He's well respected and will be missed not just personally, but because of his skill and ability.''
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LUG NUTS: Tony Stewart will run his eighth annual Prelude to the Dream pay-per-view charity race Wednesday in Rossburg, Ohio. Drivers from Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Trucks, IndyCar and other series will race in Late Model stock cars around Eldora's half-mile oval. Ordering information is available at either www.PreludeToTheDream.org or www.HBO.com. ... Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota will have a specially designed paint scheme just for the Monster Mile that shows support for Autism Speaks. ``This is all about raising awareness and we're here for a greater cause this weekend,'' Hamlin said. Dover created an autism-friendly section that includes air-conditioned grandstand seats and a dedicated quiet zone. .... NASCAR will honor airmen/women representing the Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday. The Troops to the Track program allows active duty, wounded warriors, veterans and military families to attend a NASCAR race and enjoy a VIP experience.

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Paul Menard +1000

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