Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2017 Apache Warrior 400

Who…gets the shoutout of the week?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief Brian Pattie made the bold call to leave the No. 17 car on the track during a cycle of green-flag pit stops during stage 1. A caution came out when Jeffrey Earnhardt hit the sand barriers protecting the pit wall, leaving Stenhouse as one of five cars on the lead lap.

The caution gave Stenhouse the opportunity to grab stage points as the race restarted with 28 laps to go in the stage. He finished fourth in the stage, which netted the playoff contender seven stage points. Those points, combined with Stenhouse’s 19th-place finish, gave him enough points to advance into the Round of 12.

Where…did the pole-sitter and defending race winner end up?

Last year’s winner Martin Truex Jr. started Sunday’s race from the pole position, but did not stay on top for long. Truex led the opening 25 laps before being overtaken by Kyle Larson. The playoff point leader saw the lead two more times for 26 more laps, but was nowhere near as dominant as he has been this season.

Truex finished the race and both stages inside of the top five. However, this race marked the first time since the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway where Truex finished a race without earning any stage points.

Why…did Kyle Busch win?

The No. 18 Toyota was not all that fast early in a run, but picked up speed on the long runs. The race uncharacteristically stayed under green flag conditions for the final 152 laps –– the distance of the entire final stage.

Chase Elliott came out of green-flag pit stops with a 4.5-second lead over Busch with 60 laps to go. Busch methodically tracked down Elliott and got around him via the high lane with two laps to go, spoiling Elliott’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win.

How…did Chase Elliott lose?

Elliott was not as good as Busch on the long run, but he also appeared to drive too conservatively at the end. He needed to be more aggressive in getting through lapped traffic.

Also, Busch moved up the track while he was chasing Elliott and made the high line work. Elliott stayed on the bottom and easily yielded the spot to Busch. This was a situation where Busch was clearly faster up high, so Elliott needed to move up and try to take his line away. He did not do that and gave another race away as a result.

What…difference does stage racing make in the playoffs?

Stenhouse and Ryan Newman demonstrated at Dover International Speedway just how important stage points are. Newman finished the race in 13 place, while Stenhouse placed in 19th. In years’ past, Newman would have gained six points on Stenhouse and would have advanced into the next round of the playoffs.

Because Stenhouse finished stage 1 in fourth and grabbed seven stage points, he made it into the next round, besting Newman by a mere two markers. This race shows that teams need to try just as hard to earn stage points as they do for finishing positions.

Is…this the end for Kurt Busch?

The elder Busch brother entered the playoffs on a string of three consecutive top five finishes. It seemed that the Monster Energy Ford was going to be a strong contender for the inaugural Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy.

Then, the playoffs started, and Kurt Busch faced bad luck in the first two races of the Round of 16. Busch essentially faced a must-win situation at Dover and completely underwhelmed. The 2004 champion finished in 20th place and did not tally a single stage points. The car lacked speed when it needed it the most.

Busch was eliminated from the playoffs way too early in what is a contract year. He currently does not have a ride or sponsor signed for next season. Stewart-Haas Racing and Monster say that they want him back in the No. 41, but nothing has been announced.

Whether or not he is in the No. 41 next season, I do believe that Busch will find a ride, but making a deep run into the playoffs would have been a huge bargaining chip for the 2017 Daytona 500 champion.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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