Going into this race, we all knew the JGR teams were going to be tough to beat, but I don’t think anyone thought they would go 1-2-3-4 at the finish. Nor did anyone think that two of the drivers would set the pace leading 311 of the 400 laps. If you are a Toyota fan, this was your race.
Martin Truex, Jr. put the hammer down and won this race going away. Not even a late race spin could keep him from achieving his date with destiny. Kyle Busch wound up first loser after leading the most laps and looking like he had this one sewn up after the MTJ spin out. Denny Hamlin finished third and Erik Jones fourth. But Jones failed post-race inspection and had to forfeit his finish.
Brad Keselowksi finished fifth, credited with fourth now, and led 89 laps after sitting on the pole. No other drivers led laps. That’s pretty incredible.
So, with no one else leading laps, how did the playoff contenders fare? Well, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson were the only two non-playoff drivers to crack the top 10. That is positive for both of their teams.
Ryan Newman finished 5th and helped his playoff hopes immensely. Clint Bowyer did the same finishing 8th. Two top 10 finishes have put Newman 12 points to the good and, more importantly, several positions ahead of the drivers below him. Bowyer has his work cut out for him 4 points below the cut off line. He will need to outperform Bowyer, Byron, Kurt Busch and Jones for sure and quite possibly a couple more to survive this round.
Bowman and Byron had a miserable race and find themselves on the bubble. Kurt Busch finished 18th and really didn’t help himself too much. He will need a monster race at the Roval and a lot of help to advance to the next round. Bowman raced well at the inaugural Roval so if he can manage a Top 10 finish, he will do about all he can do to secure his future playoff run.
Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney finished just ahead of Kurt Busch and will need to do better in order for them to survive. They have points to play with, but not that many. Barring a disastrous race, they should make it to the next round.
Blaney won the first Roval after Jimmie Johnson and MTJ tangled and took each other out in the closing laps. But Blaney does OK at Watkins Glen but less well at Sonoma. Still, if he can stay within the top 12 he should be OK.
Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch also ran well at the last Roval so if they can stay out of trouble, things look brighter for them. Well, better for Clint than Kurt.
The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing should be in the hunt. Jones will need the win to survive after failing inspection at Richmond, but the other three drivers should be considered contenders for a win. I expect to See Joey Logano and Bad Brad to be charging hard for a win as well. This will also be a good test for Kyle Larson who faded down the stretch last year but did lead 47 laps and had a Stage win. And don’t forget Chase Elliott who has a couple of road course wins under his belt. Lastly, The Closer, Kevin Harvick, knows his way around a road course and finished 9th last year at the Roval.
I expect to see the Top 10 once again dominated by playoff contenders but I also think we’ll see 2-3 drivers taking Top 10 spots away from some of the playoff teams. Drivers looking to make a name for themselves this weekend would be Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Chris Buescher and Matt DeiBenedetto.
Look for tension to be high as the playoff teams, especially bubble teams, fight their way around non-playoff cars and through lapped traffic. The Roval will have a couple of new wrinkles this year and teams are still figuring it out. I expect to see a few wrinkled front ends.
(Featured image courtesy of NASCAR Media)