Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson was getting plenty of airtime for some bold moves late in the race and a recent hot streak, Jamie McMurray was quietly getting a top-10 finish of his own (he wound up seventh) and in doing so, made them one of three multi-car organizations to see each of its teams in the Chase (Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske being the others).
It’s the first time the Ganassi bunch has had two Chase-bound teams and while Larson has gotten the lion’s share of attention recently for his win at Michigan and aggressive drive for victory No. 2, McMurray has been consistently improving-his understated Richmond run was the kind of race that can move a driver forward in the Chase. This year’s field is a tough one, but if McMurray can stay consistent, he does have a shot at the second round.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
There was some good racing, there was some questionable racing and there were certainly plenty of crashes. It’s too bad that it was all overshadowed by the Chase and all the who’s in, who’s out if the race ended right now (and it isn’t going to) talk during the broadcast. If you weren’t already in the Chase, battling to get in the Chase or crashing someone in one of those two categories, well, you might as well have been invisible.
Yes, the Chase is coming. Yes, some teams are going to get in and others are going to fall short, but there was a race going on that meant something on its own. While the big picture is focused on the playoffs, each race also matters outside of the Chase. Unfortunately, fans can probably expect more of the same for the next ten weeks—Chase contenders eating up the broadcast while others are barely an afterthought even if they’re performing well. That’s debatable journalism at best, but it’s what fans are going to get.
Where…did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Denny Hamlin ran at the front early on, but at times didn’t look like he had anything for the No. 78 of Martin Truex, Jr., who ultimately led the most laps There were also enough others (the race featured 21 lead changes) making bids that Hamlin didn’t look like a lock until late in the game, when he led the final 89 laps to win at his hometown track.
Matt Kenseth was never quite as strong as teammate Hamlin, leading just three laps, but he was definitely in the mix for a top 5 for much of the night…until a flat tire sent him into the wall with just 65 laps remaining. Unlike some drivers who kissed the wall on Saturday night, Kenseth body slammed it, ending his night in 38th place. Kenseth limps into the Chase, the polar opposite of his teammate.
When…did it all go sideways?
Richmond produced a wild race with a record number of cautions, and many of those came from one of two things: flat tires and short track racing. In fact, many if not most of the tire issues came from contact on the track, not a bad tire (tires, overall, were excellent in that they did wear out and require constant management). It was not a Goodyear issue, it was racing incidents that caused much of the attrition on the night, and that’s not a bad thing.
Tempers did flare to the point of at least a couple of on-track incidents that were definitely not entirely accidental. Incidents between Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Paul Menard and between Matt DiBenedetto and Casey Mears looked like there was more than a hint of emotion involved, and Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman bounced off each other a few times before triggering a multi-car crash which is one people will be talking about for all the wrong reasons. Newman, who needed a win to keep his Chase hopes alive, was driving aggressively, and tried two or there times to pinch Stewart down on the track, making contact with the No. 14 until Stewart decided he’d had enough and held his line, in the process getting into Newman and turning him.
Newman’s comments afterward gained a lot of attention after he eluded toward a sprint car accident Stewart was involved in in 2014 in which the other driver was struck and killed. Newman called Stewart “bipolar” and said he should have retired already. Newman’s comments were largely uncalled for. Drivers have been using the chrome horn since the beginning of time, and Stewart was more patient in that situation than others might have been (DiBenedetto showed far less patience in the earlier incident and his move on Casey Mears was at least as blatant as Stewart’s).
Stewart took a lot of heat for an incident last week at Darlington as well where he appeared to intentionally spin Brian Scott after Scott, in a lapped car, held him up. While that move was unquestionably dirty, to call extra attention to it simply because it was Stewart is a little silly; he was far from the first driver to let the frustration oust judgment and he’ll hardly be the last.
Why…did Denny Hamlin win the race?
There were a couple of things at play. One, Hamlin and his team made the right calls at the right time, and while other teams did absolutely the right thing by varying late tire and pit strategies, Hamlin’s was the right one for him and paid off. But he also had great restarts when he needed to, the advantage of clean air (Yes, it still matters. A lot.), and track position that kept him out of other people’s issues. Those things combined were enough for Hamlin to take the checkers and roll into the Chase with a winner’s momentum.
How…does the Chase picture shake out?
Of course, a lot can change in just one race, let alone ten long weeks, but considering recent performance as well as past records at Chase tracks, here’s who I’m thinking going in is a final four possibility, who’s probably going to go deeper than the first round, and who is probably going to be concentrating on 2017 after Dover.
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