The week started with the announcement that Kurt Busch was not going to make the start of the Cup playoffs and that his waiver request had been withdrawn, effectively giving up any hope of a return for the former champion. That announcement left the window open for Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Blaney to make the playoffs on points if neither won at Daytona. That is, unless no one NEW won at Daytona.
After being postponed a day for rain, the teams cranked it up early on Sunday morning to try and get in the entire race. Rain was forecast for most of the day and the afternoon forecast looked worse. Amazingly, the rain held off most of the race but when it did fall, it totally changed the outcome of the race and possibly the playoffs.
While Stage wins do not tell the whole story, it sure looked like we would have a repeat winner. Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin and several other drivers looked stout and led at various points in the race. As usual, wrecks at the front of the field took out several contenders, leaving the door open for drivers like Austin Cindric, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick.
And for a while, it looked like the threat of rain was just that, a threat. As the laps wore down the threat of rain appeared more ominous and then with Daniel Suarez leading a pack of hard charging cars into Turn 1, rain fell. Not a lot but enough to send 13 cars into each other. The ensuing wreck depleted the field by about half and the red flag came out for over 3 hours with Austin Dillon in the lead.
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Since it was still early in the day and enough heat was in the track, NASCAR quickly went to work to dry the portion of the track affected by the shower and Austin Dillon was forced to make good on his race lead. With just 16 cars still able to race, the depleted field took the green flag with the race for the final playoff spots on the line. While damaged, the car of Martin Truex, Jr. was able to stay ahead of Blaney on the track but as the final laps passed, MTJ fell further into the field and was at risk of getting knocked out with every position he gave up. When Cindric assumed the late lead it looked like MTJ was going to just squeak in. But Austin Dillon was at the head of a line of three Chevy’s and Cindric was a sitting duck. Dillon drove up to his bumper and tagged Cindric, causing him to lift and nearly wrecking several of the remaining cars. Dillon took over the lead once again and then had to hold off a hungry teammate in Tyler Reddick.
The win vaulted Dillon into the playoffs and closed the door for MTJ.
Now Dillon must stay in the top 12 drivers in the next three races to prove this was not a fluke. Yes, a win is a win in NASCAR but Dillon is the king of fluky wins. And he has three races to prove otherwise. Good luck with that. His best chance to stay in the running will be at Darlington because Kansas and Bristol are not Top 10 tracks for him.
My pick for the 4 drivers to not move on into Round 2:
- Austin Dillon
- Austin Cindric
- Daniel Suarez
- Alex Bowman
This is difficult because the lowest seeded 5 drivers will obviously compete to stay in the hunt but you could also make a case for a higher seeded driver to miss out. A case could easily be made for a driver like Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick or Christopher Bell to fail to move on. And a single wreck could change the fortunes of any driver. With Darlington and Bristol as two of the first three races, the opportunity for wrecking is pretty high.
Good on ya, mate
- Austin Dillon (P1) would have wrecked his mom for a win
- Tyler Reddick (P2) for being a proper good teammate
- Austin Cindric (P3) for not tossing Dillon under the bus later
- Landon Cassill (P4) must have had stars in his eye being this close to a win
- Noah Gragson (P5) had may wrecks to thank for this finish
- Cody Ware (P6) was very lucky
- BJ McLeod (P7) was another driver who was lucky to be there
- David Ragan (P9) had to be thrilled with this finish
- Kyle Busch (P10) was the last car on the lead lap
- Bubba Wallace (P11) stuck by his Toyota teammates
- Cole Custer (P16) was the last car running, seven laps down
So you had a bad day
- Martin Truex, Jr. (P8) lost out by three positions
- Kyle Larson (P37) lost an engine early on
- Christopher Bell (P36) went out early in a wreck
- Michael McDowell (P32) had a good car but accidents happen
- Corey LaJoie (P30) was running up front with a solid car but the racing god’s had no love for him
- Chase Elliott (P29) had an awesome car until it got wrecked
- Denny Hamlin (P25) was sneaky good until it rained
- Daniel Suarez (P24) had to think he had a shot at a win or Top 5 until it rained
Next up: Darlington
Can anyone be a spoiler this week? This would be a good time for MTJ to pick for his first win of the season. MTJ won the spring 2021 race. Joey Logano won the spring race and dominated with 107 laps led. Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner and led 146 laps. Meanwhile, Kyle Larson led 156 laps and finished second. Kevin Harvick and Hamlin are tied with two wins here in the last seven races. Harvick finished 4th in the spring and 5th at this race in 2021. Aside from MTJ, your sleeper this week that would turn the tables on everyone, former Darlington winner Erik Jones.
(Featured Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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