ONE: A Look At Those Locked In
With Darlington in the books, the Chase field for the Sprint Cup Series has gotten substantially clearer. Of the 16 Chase spots, 12 have been tentatively filled by race winners who have clinched finishing the regular season in the top 30. These 12 drivers include, by order of Chase grid:
1st Brad Keselowski
2nd Kyle Busch
3rd Kevin Harvick
4th Carl Edwards
5th Denny Hamlin
6th Martin Truex Jr.
7th Matt Kenseth
8th Jimmie Johnson
9th Joey Logano
10th Kurt Busch
11th Kyle Larson
12th Tony Stewart
For each win a driver earns in the regular season, that driver will be given three bonus points after the points are reset to 2,000. For example, both Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, assuming neither wins this weekend at Richmond, will both start the Chase with 2012 points while third through eighth will begin the Chase with 2006 points.
For these 12 drivers, this weekend may be the last “no pressure” race of their season. Sure, a win and three bonus points would be an excellent way to start the Chase off. But it wouldn’t be a complete disaster to have a bad race due to the points being reset immediately following.
TWO: A Look At Drivers On The Bubble
In an interesting turn of events, there was another winner this regular season but he isn’t locked into the top 30 just yet. Chris Buescher got the hard part out of the way by winning a rain delayed race at Pocono last month but enters Richmond 30th in points, just 11 points ahead of David Ragan. Buescher needs to finish seventh to clinch and make it into the Chase, or at the very least finish no more than 9 places behind Ragan and 26 places behind Regan Smith.
Because of Buescher’s fight to remain in the top 30 and Ryan Newman’s possible penalty after failing post-race Darlington inspection, everything gets a little murky. Right now, here is essentially the battle to be in the Chase via points:
Austin Dillon (-8 points): Cutoff line if there is a new eligible winner and Buescher stays in.
Jamie McMurray (-17 points): Cut-off line if either Buescher stays in and there are no new eligible winners or if there is a new eligible winner and Buescher doesn’t stay in.
Ryan Newman (-24 points before any possible penalties): Cutoff line if there are no new eligible winners and Buescher doesn’t stay in.
Kasey Kahne (-61 points): Kahne would need a lot to happen as of now to mathematically have a shot to make it in on points. But Newman’s potential penalty could bring the Washington state native back into viable play if Newman falters and if there are no new eligible winners and Buescher doesn’t stay in. Kahne cannot pass McMurray in points unless he wins, which would give him a spot on the Chase Grid anyway.
All drivers in the top 30 in points following Richmond can make it onto the Chase Grid by winning the race. Ragan and Smith would both need to make it into the top 30 in addition to winning. The only full time drivers who are officially locked out of the Chase are Brian Scott, Matt DiBennedetto, and Michael Annett (Who would be locked out regardless due to missing Bristol two weeks ago).
Finally, there is a possibility that if Buescher falls out of the top 30, there are no new eligible winners, and both McMurray and Newman struggle that the No. 88 Chevrolet could sneak into the Owner’s points Chase. Jeff Gordon will be in the car this week and with how well the car has ran with both himself and Alex Bowman, they could go far in the Owner’s Chase if given the chance.
THREE: Crazy Truck Finish
The finish of the Camping World Truck Series race at MoSport, or Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (proper) was absolute, pure insanity that has led to a lot of controversy in the NASCAR community. Did John Hunter Nemechek step out of line with his actions coming to the finish line, running Cole Custer off the track?
It depends. A lot of people have double standards when it comes to these type of finishes. Some people who were perfectly fine when Cale Gale ran Kyle Busch into the wall a few years ago at Homestead may have come out of the woodwork criticizing this finish just because Busch didn’t receive the worst end of the stick on this one. Some who worship Dale Earnhardt Sr. have said Nemechek crossed the line but turn a blind eye to Earnhardt Sr. taking out Terry Labonte in a 1999 Bristol race.
The reality of the situation is this: these are two young drivers who can afford to be overly aggressive with their equipment. Yes, Nemechek may have made a dumb move, but at the very least he made it for a win and not 11th like a lot of young drivers coming up today do. Nobody should hold this over him five years from now. Nobody cares that Chase Elliott possibly dumped Ty Dillon in this same race in 2013. Same thing with Cole Custer tackling Nemechek after the race. Oh my God, a driver acted like losing a race matters and didn’t just say “Oh shucks, we’ll get ‘em next time.” What a travesty. Having outside media even mention the sport when they wouldn’t otherwise isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing.
FOUR: Harvick’s pit problems continue
Kevin Harvick did the right thing putting his pit crew under the bus on national television on Sunday. Why? Because nothing else seems to be working.
Harvick had the best pit box due to qualifying being rained out and the pit crew once again did nothing with it. Granted, one of the pit stops were hurt by a malfunctioning air gun, but it’s pretty sad when barely maintaining their position on the final stop of the race might as well have been a cause for celebration.
“Oh, but Harvick should have waited until he was in the shop on Monday before voicing his concerns.” No, because either Harvick is an idiot or he’s been doing that for a while now. Don’t think Harvick said anything after Dover, when he dominated before the pit crew had a terrible day, again in the best pit box on pit road? Keeping his concerns private just wasn’t changing anything.
FIVE: Darlington Should Be It
Darlington should be the final race before the Chase. It’s in a great time slot, it’s a major race, and it’s right before football takes over most of the sports media.
Richmond has been the final stop before the Chase since the play-off system’s inception in 2004, but it just feels a little smaller now that Darlington is over. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl back in the 80’s where the real game was generally the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl was an afterthought.
Richmond would be an even more important race as the first race in the Chase now that most of the Chase field is locked in going into Richmond anyway. They’d be locked in going into Darlington too but Darlington has the prestige and action to make it a can’t miss race without the Chase. Richmond has had some good races for years but there are still plenty of snoozers (Last year Matt Kenseth led 352 of 400 laps on his way to victory) and a lot of the drama has hinged on who can make it into the Chase. With how many drivers get into the Chase now, a lot of said drama has gone away. Now it’s a hang over after the Darlington throwback weekend, a largely skippable race last year unless you really wanted to see if Paul Menard could hold on to his Chase spot.
A Richmond Chase race would spice a lot of things up and help diversify the Chase tracks. Do we really need five 1.5 mile tracks in the Chase? Moving Kansas or Chicagoland out and putting Richmond in would make the Chase just a little more interesting.
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