Martin Truex, Jr did not start on the front row at Charlotte, nor did he gain any stage points, nor did he dominate the race as he so often has this year. But somehow he led 91 laps in the final stage of the race, including the most important lap – the final one.
While Kevin Harvick was dominating the first two stages of the race and Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin battled for the person to be the first loser, the 78 team was biding its time and waiting to pounce. Truex has been solid on restarts this season and once he got to the front, he was once again solid and the front runner was difficult to catch all day long at Charlotte.
Harvick gained valuable stage points that they have so often missed this season, and while a win guarantees a pass through to the next round, he is in a good place with his third place finish.
Chase Elliott needed his good finish with Talladega coming up. Heck, you could say that about all the drivers. Talladega couldn’t come at a better time for Brad Keselowski who sits in 10th, by just 2 points out of the last transfer spot held by Jamie McMurray. Keselowski is a good plate racer and should be one of the favorites even though his Ford has lacked speed this year. This will be a catfight with the bottom 4 drivers within 10 points of the last transfer spot. Jimmie Johnson had a so-so race at Charlotte and sits in 7th place, just 8 markers in front of 9th place Matt Kenseth, the first cut off driver. Johnson ran in the top 10 in the first two stages after starting 25th, but a pit road incident cost him some valuable time. Kenseth is headed to a track that is not one of his best. Johnson is a top 10 driver at Talladega, but he also has 8 DNFs there.
Kyle Busch had a terrible race at Charlotte, wrecking his primary car in before the race but the team repaired it and he qualified 4th. But he dropped like a rock and continued to find the fence all day long and soldiered on, while ill, to finish 29th. With all the damage to the car, the heat and fumes got the best of him by the end of the race and he had to be treated by the medical crew. But the fact he kept racing garnered him more points than if he had parked it. Not to self: this is the same Kyle Busch who has been quite vocal about other drivers that bring out cautions by spinning multiple times in a race. Ahem.
Surprises for me? Kasey Kahne and Ryan Blaney with top 10 finishes. While Kahne is out of the playoffs Blaney is in 11th, just 5 points behind McMurray. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr finished in 13th, which, while not terrible, put him at the bottom of the top 12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr had an abysmal race all day, barely running in the top 20. But somehow he managed a 12th place finish at the end. Not awe-inspiring, but shows you what hard work and dedication can do.
In another NASCAR oddity, Jimmie Johnson pitted and started to leave when he was told to stop for a loose lug nut by his crew. Johnson stopped, backed up but was serviced outside his pit box, a clear violation according to the NASCAR rule book. But as we have often seen, NASCAR makes it up as they go along. NASCAR called no penalty and their explanation was that this was a rule they are lenient on since stopping, backing up and fixing the lug nut was kind of a penalty in itself.
NASCAR claims that while not everyone knows that they are lenient on this (as circumstance dictates) those involved know it.
Is it a rule or not? In a sport where NASCAR has been hard on teams for lug nut issues, I have yet to see this one where they back off on a clear violation.
Whatever, NASCAR. And you wonder why you have credibility issues.