You wanted drama in a cut off race? We’ll you certainly got your fill at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday. Let’s start with race winner Kyle Larson.
Larson led 8 laps at the end but nearly fell from contention with an electrical issue. The team had to change a battery and alternator belt and stay on the lead lap while doing it. That is just nuts and probably not possible on any track but a road course.
Teammate Alex Bowman suffered a similar issue and he too changed a battery. Bowman was in a must win scenario and while finishing P10 was a noble effort, it wasn’t what the doctor ordered.
Hendrick teammate William Byron led 30 laps and looked like he would break through in his own must win situation but he tangled with Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick late in the race. As the trio fought through the tight turns, Reddick got into Byron, spinning him out and causing Byron to have to stop for missing the chicane. That move dropped Byron back below the cut line for advancing. Heartbreaking for the team.
To top it all off for Hendrick team drama, Chase Elliott got dumped by Kevin Harvick (remember Bristol?) and nearly tore the rear end of the 9 car off. Lots of tape kept the rear deck on while the rear bumper eventually fell off. Even with the rear end squashed, Elliott made good time and drove back up through the field, apparently looking for retribution. He got to the 4 just before the end of the race and took Harvick and two others 4 wide into a turn. It appeared Harvick was going to stay on the outside, away from Elliott and in doing so, lost his front grip, locked up the tire and smashed into the wall. Elliott and the others drove away but the word “karma” was heard across the nation.
Want more drama? Brad Keselowski battled to advance all race long. In. Out. In. Out. As the leaders changed, so did his fortune.
Christopher Bell was also in a must win situation and looked like he had a car capable of winning when he missed a chicane and had to stop before continuing. He rallied but a rally is not a win.
Denny Hamlin definitely had a car capable of winning but when things got wild at the end, Hamlin probably pocketed a valorous attempt and stayed out of the way of drivers who had far more to lose.
Whew, now onto Texas and Kansas before the final cut off race at Martinsville.
Good on ya, mate.
- Kyle Larson (P1) for perseverance that got him the win.
- Tyler Reddick (P2) may be sorry for booting Byron but he had a strong race
- Chris Buescher (P3) for a great finish
- Kyle Busch (P4) finished just 9 above the cut line
- Denny Hamlin (P5) led 25 laps and then decided to let the craziness stay ahead of him at the end
- Matt DiBenedetto (P6) continues to race and finish well
- Christopher Bell (P8) had a decent finish but without a win, it feels like a lot less
- Ryan Blaney (P9) led 10 laps and will need to outrun the field in the next round
- Alex Bowman (P10) put forth an effort they could be proud of except they needed to win
- William Byron (P11) probably should have won the race
- Chase Elliott (P12) came back from the dead and spooked Harvick into the wall
So you had a bad day
- Ryan Newman (P39) lost a tire and a lot more
- AJ Almendinger (P36) looked to be a Top 10 threat and led 5 laps before his engine blew
- Kevin Harvick (P33) battled the cut line all day and in the end lost out to karma
- Martin Truex, Jr. (P29) complained about his car all day but he is moving on
- Joey Hand (P27) had issues keeping his car going straight
- The defending race winner: Kyle Busch
- Last six winners, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon
- Last fall, Joe Gibbs finished 1-2-3. Doubt they will do that again but this should be a good race for Kyle Busch to cement his place in the final 4. He is a bubble driver right now, but I don’t see that continuing at Texas.
- While Larson isn’t one of the top drivers at Texas, he does have 3 wins and is the 4th best rated driver on intermediate tracks since 2018. So you really can’t count him out.
- Harvick might finally get a win in 2021 here since his feud with Chase Elliott may be over, but I haven’t seen the consistent speed from this team yet.
- And a driver like Tyler Reddick could respond and pull off an upset win, stealing a pass through to the Final Four.
Ugh. This is where things get really tough since none of the three remaining tracks shows a significant difference between drivers – for the most part. For example, you look at Martinsville and MTJ (+6) has won 3 of the last 6 races. You also have to look at momentum and right now, MTJ and Joe Gibbs Racing are not at the peak of their game. Aside from Denny Hamlin, the other 3 drivers can have a moment, but they are not running at their best. Whatever mo Hamlin has found that his teammates (Kyle Busch -1) haven’t, you gotta keep hoping he can keep delivering.
Kyle Larson (leader) has had an exceptional season so far but as Sunday showed us, a mechanical issue can take from hero to zero before you know it.
Chase Elliott (-2) showed how tenacity can keep you in the game. This next round won’t be as forgiving.
Team Penske is just hanging on. Blaney (+1) will need to really step up his if he wants to move on. Keselowski (-16) is in the most trouble and Texas is not his best track. He will need to win at Kansas or Martinsville.
Joey Logano (-11) has been running relatively well and Kansas and Martinsville are better tracks than Texas.
If you are a bubble driver or below the cut off, the place to make up ground is going to be on the track that is not your best, because it is a better track for your competitors. If you struggle, they will eat your lunch and you will be in a must win situation. Your best track may be where you can get a win, but waiting for that track to roll around after you get beaten down puts you in a position with no other option but to win. And barring any of his competitors having a mechanical issue, Kes has half a race to make up right out of the chute.
The final four drivers to advance:
- Kyle Larson
- Denny Hamlin
- Chase Elliott
- Martin Truex, Jr.
(Photo by Chris Owens/HHP for Chevy Racing)