Martin Truex, Jr. started the race with a penalty on the first lap. Denny Hamlin controlled the start and may have spun his wheels but it didn’t matter. NASCAR rule states that you may not beat the polesitter to the start finish line and MTJ certainly did that, tire spinning or not. Hamlin is pretty sly on restarts and even if he didn’t spin his tires, he will definitely play the restart to bait his opponent into a mistake.
While MTJ led 80 laps including the last 51, teammate Denny Hamlin dominated most of the race leading a high of 197 laps and winning the first two Stages. The night surely belonged to Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. In spite of penalties, the organization went 1-2-3 with MTJ, Hamlin and Christopher Bell. They might have grabbed the top four spots had Kyle Busch, who led 39 laps, not been penalized for a pit road violation.
Kyle Larson was on the front row but sent to the rear for failing inspection three times. He drove to the front and led 8 laps, but never had much for the Toyotas.
Kurt Busch looked to have a strong race going when he lost a rear tire and slammed into the wall, ending his night but somehow keeping him just above the cut line heading into the final Round One race at Bristol.
The bottom four playoff drivers have a lot to overcome as Kurt Busch’s mishap pointedly shows. Alex Bowman needs to beat Kurt Busch at Bristol to advance. Bowman finished 12th at Richmond but that wasn’t enough to elevate him above Kurt. Tyler Reddick and William Byron will have to improve on their Top 20 finishes. Michael McDowell’s only hope is to win.
Interestingly enough, drivers way closer to the cut line than they want are Aric Almirola (+3), Kyle Busch (+8) and Brad Keselowski (+13). An early exit for them would certainly benefit the four drivers below the cut line but only if they can capitalize and place in the Top 5. That’s right, a Top 10 run might not even guarantee them a place in the next round. That’s how tough it is to make up a bad race in the playoffs.
The winners of the last six Bristol races are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch. That’s a tough groups of drivers to get passed to advance to Round 2. If Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski can stay out of trouble and keep the speed they have shown, the night won’t look good for the bottom four drivers. The new Bristol configuration is a lot more forgiving than the old and while anything can happen (see Kurt Busch), drivers can’t count on that and teams will have to bring their A-Game.
Good on ya, mate
- Christopher Bell (P3) for fighting to get back to and stay in the Top 10 all race long.
- Chase Elliott (P4) led 58 laps and a Top 10 at Bristol isn’t out of the question.
- Joey Logano (P5) was racy but not enough.
- Kyle Larson (P6) drove from the rear to the front. Better off passing inspection though.
- Ross Chastain (P7) is the real deal.
- Kevin Harvick (P8) is doing just enough to keep going. That won’t cut it in the next round.
- Kyle Busch (P9) fought off penalties to grab a Top 10. No mistakes in Round 2.
- Ryan Blaney (P10) started off well enough but then had to battle for a Top 10.
- Austin Dillon (P11) had a decent race even though he is out of the playoff picture.
So you had a bad day
- Kurt Busch (P37) smacked the wall on drivers side and that looked like it hurt.
- Bubba Wallace (P32) had the tire carcass of Kurt get lodged under his front tire.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P23) is supposedly good at Richmond. Not this night.
- William Byron (P19) needs to step it up at Bristol.
- Tyler Reddick (P15) saw just how bad a 15th place run is in the playoffs.
- Aric Almirola (P14) might take a Top 15 any other day in this season. Not today.
- Alex Bowman (P12) had to be glad to see Kurt Busch wreck so early. Just not early enough for him.
Erik Jones has a couple of recent Top 10 finishes at Bristol. Should be interesting to see if he can do that again and be a spoiler for someone. Ryan Preece also has run well the past two races. He could be another spoiler. Even if Michael McDowell can repeat his Top 10 from 2020, it will be like kissing your cousin.
Drive fast, turn left and keep the shiny side up. Enjoy the race! And leave your comments on Richmond in the section below!
(Featured Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)