Last week Denny Hamlin led a lot of laps and left without a win. This week the same thing occurred, but at the end saw him win as an owner with Tyler Reddick leading just two laps, but the most important two laps.
Reddick stayed in contention the entire race finishing P6 and P5 in the first two Stages and managed to stay out of trouble when over half the playoff drivers had some sort of issue that opened up the opportunity for others.
From the polesitter on down, contender after contender had issues staying off the wall or with tires going down. Martin Truex, Jr., Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, William Byron. Need I continue?
Even with all the tires going down, we still had periods of long green flag runs that showed several lap leaders who appeared to be race winners. Kyle Larson led 99 laps and handily won Stage 1. Hamlin led 63 laps. Brad Keselowksi won Stage 2 and led 23 laps. Chase Elliott looked back to form as he led 47 laps.
But they don’t pay you to win Stages or the most laps led.
With all the 1.5 mile tracks in the playoffs, this race bodes well for team 23XI. Bubba Wallace started 2nd and had a very good race going before his left rear went and he lost time on pit road repairing the damage. This was a missed opportunity for Bubba with MTJ going out on lap 4 and falling below the cut line at -7. All the playoff points accumulated over the long season vanished in the blink of an eye for Truex but the blown tire put Bubba 19 points below the cut off. While Bubba finished the race and MTJ went out so early, the race attrition was so small Bubba finished P32 vs MTJ at P36. Just not enough points to really take advantage of Truex’s misfortune.
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Aside from that, Wallace and Reddick could make noise in the playoffs even if Wallace doesn’t make the cut in Bristol. A win by Bubba down the road would really mess up chances for a playoff contender.
I for one would like to see some of the heat turned up on a few drivers who appear to be struggling.
Things of note: Playoff struggles
Kevin Harvick ended up P11 after running as high as P2. That put shim +7 above the cut off heading to Bristol.
Joey Logano has not had a great playoff run and his P5 finish was pure luck due to the late caution. A two tire strategy push him up front when he would have been luck top finish P15. He is sitting at +12 instead of about +2.
Christopher Bell is +13 after his P8 finish, which just goes to show how important playoff points are.
Kyle Busch had to start at the rear of the field but raced his way back to P6 and a +24.
Ryan Blaney was not a happy camper during the race and the normally calm interview was screaming mad during the race. He finished P12 and is still +25 but you’d think he was +1.
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will have some reflection time this week after the final pit stop that aw Larson get squeezed between Keselowski and Elliott on the final pit stop. Larson chose to bump into Elliott instead of Keselowski as he became the meat of a sandwich. It sure looked like Larson put himself in a bad situation but these guys want every inch they can get especially on a final OT caution pit stop. Elliott took offense and gave Larson a little payback under yellow. You would think that spotters might have helped calm the situation but evidently not.
Next up: Bristol
There hasn’t been a repeat winner at Bristol in the last 6 races and the winners are from all walks of NASCAR. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and defending race winner Chris Buescher.
While Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick might be the highest ranked drivers, AJ Allmendinger isn’t far behind and we know how aggressive he is. Erik Jones is a Top 10 average finisher as well and after Kansas, the team has something to build on.
Buescher led 169 laps last year while Christopher Bell led 143 and won Stage 2. Brad Keselowski led 109 laps, won Stage 2 but finished P13. I expect better from him this weekend.
Bubba Wallace finished P29 and he can’t afford that again. He’ll need to be P5 or better to advance, and that may still require a bunch of help from drivers in front of him in points.
I think this is the last we’ll see of McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and most probably the exit of Bubba Wallace from the playoffs. The big upset might also be that MTJ is eliminated after winning the season title. That might depend on how Harvick and Logano prevail. This isn’t the old Bristol and is a more forgiving track but anything can happen in NASCAR so an early exit by any contender might help someone on the bubble.
That’s my take, enjoy the playoffs and keep the shiny side up.
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)