What do you do when you qualify 19th but know you have a fast car and crash head on into the barrier while leading the race? Why you go on to win the race, by golly!
Chase Elliott had a fast car but made a huge mistake while leading. Just like last year, the leader flew headlong into the barrier in turn one on a restart. But this time, instead of having other follow him into the pile up, Chase quickly backed out and got back onto the track. Then he proceeded to drive through the field, passing every other car and retook the lead in dominating fashion.
And this wasn’t the only storyline late in the race.
Ryan Newman was battling Alex Bowman and others to make the cut and was above and below the cut off line several times. Newman put himself in position to beat Bowman by charging through the field in 3- and 4-wide racing and coming out the other side in better shape than his competitors. I am sure that didn’t win him much driver love, especially from Daniel Suarez who was running in the Top 10 much of the day. But after finding himself near Newman, the two clashed and Suarez spun out, ending his quest for a Top 10 run.
With Bowman bullying his way up to second place, Newman needed every position he could get, as did Almirola. With Almirola pressuring, Newman finally made a mistake through the reconfigured chicane and got a drive through penalty for missing the chicane. That ended his quest to move on in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Almirola, securing the position wasn’t enough to secure his advance into the next round. But it was one heck of a battle.
Bowman overcame several mistakes and clashes and saved his season with a second place run that was just as improbable as Elliott’s comeback. The biggest clash was with fellow driver Bubba Wallace. Wallace was not in the playoff hunt but was certainly trying to have a good race day when the two made contact early in the race. From then on, Bubba gave Bowman the flying fickle finger of fate whenever the two shared track space. Bowman got tired of that and had the faster car. He eventually drove through the 43 car without a penalty for rough driving – which I thought was coming for sure. NASCAR decided that it was just racing, adding to a frustrating day of NASCAR officiating. You can look for NASCAR to have a chat with Wallace for his post-race Bowman water in the face.
NASCAR seemed to have a tough time consistently deciding when and where to throw a caution. Ryan Preece spun out alone in the chicane near the rear of the field – caution. Another car spun out with cars all around – no caution.
Definitely frustrating for fans and drivers alike, which showed up in social media. There were several race pundits who were not fans of the Roval. You can argue whether the Roval should have been a cut off race, and I can see the argument against that, but you can’t argue that it isn’t a good race if you claim to like side by side racing and cars leaning on each other. Because you certainly had plenty of that and making the Roval a cut off race probably added to the beating and banging.
Seeing the stands half full at best, you wonder what was keeping fans away from the track. The intense heat was no help. Race time temps reached the mid-90s and that certainly isn’t fan friendly. I wonder what the attendance would have been if the temps had been mid-70s. TV ratings have not yet been released so it will be interesting to see how much that changed from last year’s numbers.
Interestingly, Kyle Busch also felt the Roval wasn’t his cup of tea. He did not have a great race and decided after the red flag that he was done. He was several laps down and pulled off the track into the garage. I can’t remember a driver so obviously pulling off the track and taking himself out of a race finish. It didn’t hurt his point standing at all and you could argue that why finish if it doesn’t matter? Well, it sends a sign of frustration and a petulant “quit” perspective to your team.
And in case you did not notice, all four Hendrick cars finished in the Top 10. Jimmie Johnson was the worst in 9th place.
My predictions for missing the cut were:
- Ryan Newman
- Clint Bowyer
- Aric Almirola
- Alex Bowman
I had Erik Jones, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney as potential bubble competitors.
Actual eliminated drivers:
- Ryan Newman
- Aric Almirola
- Kurt Busch
- Erik Jones
Considering just how close the cut was, I did OK. I thought Kurt Busch would have a better race after he dug himself into a whole in the first two races.
The next three playoff races:
Dover – Jimmie Johnson won here in 2017. Recent winner are Elliott, Harvick, Kyle Busch and MTJ. Chase Elliott has the best average finish, Harvick and MTJ have the best driver rating.
Talladega – a real crap shoot with Elliott, Logano, Almirola and Keselowski the latest winners.
Kansas – the cut off race for the second round. MTJ has two wins in the past 5 races here. Keselowski, Harvick and Elliott each have one.
My picks for the drivers to miss the cut in Round Two:
William Byron – as well as he has been running, he needs to seal the deal.
Ryan Blaney – same here. He has been OK but hasn’t really stepped it up.
Clint Bowyer – he made the leap this week, but I don’t have confidence he can sustain the effort
Alex Bowman – I don’t think he can bull his way to the next round
Bubble drivers – Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski. Chase has been super-fast but he has to stay out of trouble. Bad Brad needs to win. He is middle driver in the Penske stable right now. Hamlin has been mistake-free to keep himself up front. I wonder if he can keep that up.
In case you were hiding in the woods all week, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is out at Roush Fenway Racing to be replaced by Chris Buescher. Buescher finished one position behind Stenhouse at the Roval in, arguably, lesser equipment. This puts Stenhouse and Hemric as two of the top drivers looking for a new ride, both will be competing with the up and coming Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick as well as Ross Chastain, Brett Moffitt, Landon Cassill and Corey Lajoie.
And in the worst kept secret in racing, Christopher Bell will replace the ousted Matt DiBenedetto at Leavine Family Racing.
Enjoy the next three weeks. Dover and Talladega are almost always good and as boring as Kansas can be, maybe—MAYBE — being the cut off race will make it better.
(Featured image courtesy of NASCAR Media)