If you turned on the race Saturday night, you might have first thought you were tuning into watch another manufactured playoff race. Instead, you got to see an old-school Bristol race.
Kyle Larson won his first playoff race and his sixth win overall after dueling with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
It was an exciting race all night long with differing tire strategies taking place after some long green flag runs. But that didn’t mean there was no action. Playoff drivers were fighting for every spot on the track in order to advance and drivers not in the playoffs were fighting to stay on the lead lap and fighting for a job next year. That made for a lot of lapped traffic the leaders had to negotiate and several times that proved eventful and meaningful.
Denny Hamlin looked to be a favorite to win leading 65 laps, but in battling for the lead he smacked the wall giving others the opportunity to take over.
The night will be remembered most for Harvick and Chase Elliott battling for the lead and Chase getting a tire cut due to contact. While he returned three laps down, he still had a fast car and made sure that he got in Harvick’s way as he and Larson battled in the final laps. This enraged Harvick, who is still looking for his first win of 2021, and the two did a little on track nudging and then had words, a lot of words, off track, in a hauler and then back off track again.
If all the rubbing on track didn’t get you excited, the end of the race sure did or you have no business watching NASCAR. I know, it’s not the old one-groove Bristol but last night proved it doesn’t have to be. It also proved there is no reason to cover Bristol in tons of dirt to have a good race.
Good on ya, mate
- Kyle Larson (P!) for leading 175 laps and the win.
- Kevin Harvick (P2) for showing that the old guy still has it.
- William Byron (P3) for squeaking into the playoffs.
- Ryan Blaney (P4) led 45 laps and looks to be a real contender.
- Alex Bowman (P5) showed me he had more than I thought coming into this round.
- Brad Keselowski (P6) led only 10 laps but proved he still has some fight left at Penske.
- Erik Jones (P8) isn’t in the playoffs but I am not sure he knows that.
- Matt DiBenedetto (P10) is having one heck of a season.
So you had a bad day
- Denny Hamlin (P9) went from contender to Top 10 just like that.
- Ryan Newman (P38) cut a tire and ruined his evening and a few others.
- Michael McDowell (P24) was a good story but was never going to get out of Round 1.
- Aric Almirola (P18) dug himself a hole he just couldn’t get out of.
- Tyler Reddick (P12) lost out to Byron.
- Kurt Busch (P19) needed way more than a Top 20 to move on.
Next! Round 2: Las Vegas, Talladega, Charlotte Road Course
You can be danged sure every driver is looking to Las Vegas to make a point. No one wants to rely on Talladega or the Charlotte Road Course to advance.
The past 6 winners at Las Vegas are: Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano (2), Martin Truex, Jr. and Brad Keselowski. While Larson won this spring, the Top 10 was dominated by Ford and Toyota so this race could be anyone’s. Harvick is spitting nails mad right now and that could be good for him since he has a few Top 10 finishes but no recent wins. Stewart-Haas‘record at Vegas is not something to write home about but Harvick leads all drivers with intermediate track wins since 2018.
In typical fashion, you have to look at Kyle Larson vs. Penske and Gibbs drivers as the ones to beat.
Who will survive Round 2
This is where it starts getting tough because a driver getting caught up in a wreck or having a mechanical issue not of their own making can make or break them to advance. My bottom four drivers are:
- Christopher Bell – but he won the Daytona Road Course
- William Byron – he just squeaked by in Round 1
- Alex Bowman – not sure if these 3 tracks are his strength
- Brad Keselowski – he won at Talladega but otherwise is struggling
- Darkhorses to fall: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
- Harvick could have one bad race that could end his run but he has been consistent. Blaney, same reason and he has been less consistent.
- And of course, a win from someone like Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones or Kurt Busch could really make this interesting.
Drive fast, turn left and keep the shiny side up! And leave your thoughts and/or comments in the section below.
(Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)