Kurt Busch shook up the playoff picture by winning at his home track for the first time ever. Denny Hamlin led an impressive 121 laps and had a late caution not come out, he just might have won with his fresher tires.
As it was, Hamlin finished third, behind Busch and a no-longer-just-happy-to-be-there Matt DiBenedetto.
Even with Top 5 finishes at Las Vegas, Martin Truex, Jr. and Alex Bowman are, respectively, just 15 and 9 points above the cut off. While that makes them a hard target for Austin Dillon (-32) and Aric Almirola (-27) they are likely prey to Kyle Busch (-9). Kyle finished 6th at Las Vegas while battling an ill handling car. Kyle Busch hasn’t been all that great at Talladega lately and if they don’t give him a car he feels comfortable with, he could wind up needing to win on the Roval.
On the flip side, Aric Almirola has a recent ‘Dega win as does Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are two other non-playoff drivers with recent Talladega wins who could really mess up the playoffs with another. MTJ really needs to step up his Talladega game with an average finish of 25th since 2017. Fortunately he is a decent road course driver because he may need a win to advance.
Clint Bowyer has also struggled at Talladega recently but he has performed well at the Roval. He will most likely need a win on the Roval to advance and may be battling MTJ, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano to advance. Those are tough hombres to be going up against when all the marbles are on the line.
All this means that Talladega fortune favors Team Penske right now. That is not good news for the struggling Kyle Busch. Also not good news for Austin Dillon who suffered a mechanical issue at Las Vegas putting him at the bottom of the transfer group. As tight as the points are and as consistent as the Top 4 drivers not named Kurt Busch are running, jumping past 2, 3 or more drivers requires a great car and even greater racing luck.
Look for a wild couple of races coming up.
And in other shaking up news, in case ya missed it, Michael Jordon and Denny Hamlin are starting a new team that will feature Bubba Wallace as their first driver. That was an outcome I didn’t have anywhere on my radar. Bubba comes with a lot of sponsorship so that should help with financing right off the bat. Denny has a long history with Toyota so that may point in the direction for a manufacturer. And one has to wonder if Denny won’t at some point drive for his own team. It’s not unheard of for a Cup driver to have ownership of another Cup team but I can’t think of one recent example. Dale Earnhardt comes to mind, but this isn’t 1998 and Denny Hamlin is not Big E.
Drive fast, turn left and keep the shiny side up.
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