LEBANON, Tennessee – With no clear frontrunners nine races before the cup play-offs begin, every point, every decision and every move could have an impact on the championship race.
A day before last weekend’s cup race at Nashville Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin noted how close the competition will be in the playoffs. What Chase Elliot did in Sunday’s race could have reverberation in the fall.
Elliott’s win earns him 13 playoff points, tied with Ross Chastain and William Byron for most this season. Joey Logano and Hamlin both have 12 playoff points. Seven more drivers are within at least seven playoff points of Elliott, Chastain and Byron.
“I think these will be the most unpredictable playoffs without a doubt, simply because a bad race from a good team, they won’t have the playoff points to give them a buffer to advance to the next round,” said Hamlin. “There could be very big teams in this championship or even favorites that get knocked out in the first and second rounds because they don’t have the big playoff points that our favorites had in the past.
“I’m one stage win away from P1 in the play-offs, which is crazy considering our season, but it shows when we’re up front, we can pull it off, and when we’re bad, we’re all bad. So I think I’m excited to see where it goes, but I’m also nervous that we can get our (things) together better at every track here in the next 10 weeks. †
There were a few key moments in Sunday’s race that helped Elliott take his second win of the season.
When the race resumed almost halfway through, Elliott restarted in 15th. He quickly moved up to ninth after the restart and finished fourth in the stage.
“I felt like this was kind of the moment in the race where I was like, ‘Okay, we have to win this race,'” said crew chief Alan Gustafson. “In the end I didn’t feel like we were going to pass (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.) on level ground at the time, so I wanted to get out of line with them there, and when I did, not as many people were making pips as I’d hoped, so we were a little further back, and he went back to what you’re refer, fourth or fifth, in no time. I was like, this gives us a huge advantage.”
At the restart to start the final stage, Elliott took second and started in the front row with Busch, who was on the outside. Elliott quickly gained the lead and control of the race.
“I felt like the opportunity was there to do it, if the circumstances suit you, and luckily they did,” Elliott said. “Once we got the lead there, I tried to control my lead over him, ride my race, manage my tires as best I could and not lose the lead. Then hope no warning came out. I hate that it’s over.” did, but it did, and luckily it worked for us.”
Elliott held the lead and when the warning waved he stayed out while the Gibbs cars of Busch, Truex and Hamlin all made pit stops. With 10 cars left out, they got stuck behind those cars and saw their chances of winning end.
And it was Elliott who scored the five playoff points that could be important later in the season.
“Look, you just have to keep bringing strong race cars to the track,” he said. “You have to keep putting yourself in position to win.
“If you fight up front and you have shots to win, the points problem will go away on its own. You might face if you can get to the first part of that, you might be faced with a situation here or there where you have to decide whether or not you want to get stage points or whether or not you want to try for the race win, and those things are – that’s just part of the world we live in now with stages. †
Sunday was a step in the right direction for Kevin Harvick and his team — even as crew chief Rodney Childers walked out of the garage in frustration.
Childers was not happy with his decision to take Harvick out of the pits for the final restart. Harvick was seventh when the warning waved† Had he stayed out, he would have finished third before the restart. Instead, he restarted in 15th place after the pits with 10 cars remaining. Harvick finished 10th.
†Should have probably finished third, but the MO of the 4 cars has always been on the aggressive side; on the progressive side, not the side that tries to put people off,” Childers told NBC Sports.
“It’s very difficult with this car, to be honest. I think I have to adapt better to the new car and realize that we are not going to go past 10 cars in five laps like we used to.”
Still, Harvick has back-to-back top 10 goals. His longest streak this season is three top 10s in a row.
“Just having speed and being able to drive the Gibbs cars all night was a big deal,” Childers said.
He told NBC Sports before the weekend that: an important goal would be to qualify better and get points in the opening phase† Harvick qualified 10th, the first time in the last nine races he had started in the top 10.
Harvick scored points in the opening stage for the first time in nine races. He also scored points in the second leg. As a result, he climbed back to last place in the play-offs, bumping into a teammate Aric Almirola†
Another key was the pit road. The team replaced its front tire changer and jackman last week after Harvick made critical comments about his pit crew’s performance after two of the last three races.
Childers said everything went well on the pit road.
“We had the fastest pit crew on the pit road,” he said.
According to Racing Insights, Harvick’s crew had six of the seven pit stops in the 10-second range. The team’s fastest stop for four tire changes was 10.24 seconds at the first stop. The slowest stop was 11.98 seconds. Harvick took three places in the pit lane during a tentative stop after the end of the second stage, moving him to fifth.
“It was a really good weekend and something we can build on,” Childers said.
Ross Chastain overcame extra time early in the race to tighten the right rear wheel and come back to fifth.
It was a matter of being careful and avoiding a four-week suspension for Chastain’s crew chief and two pit crew members if the wheel came loose.
Before Chastain returned to the pits on lap 46 of the 300-lap race, there was some debate as to whether he should.
“The nut wasn’t quite tight and it looked fine,” said Chastain after the race. “Half of our group said to leave me out of there, and half of our group said, ‘No, let’s take it off and put it back on.’
“I couldn’t see anything. Some of our technical staff watched the video and said we would have left the car on the track.
“It was better safe than sorry. It was one of those 50-50 (calls). We don’t want (crew chief) Phil Surgen and our crew to be gone (as part of a four-week suspension for a wheel that goes off the track). It’s just such a punishment to lose them when the tire comes off.”
Later in the match, Chris Buescher‘s wheel came off the track and his team awaits that penalty. That is the 11th time this season that a wheel has come loose during the race.
Here are the previous ten times a wheel came off, leading to a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members:
Justin Haley (Daytona 500)
Kaz Grala (Daytona 500)
Todd Gilliland (Car Club)
Corey LaJoie (Phoenix)
Bubba Wallace (COTA)
BJ McLeod (Talladega)
Denny Hamlin (Dover)
AJ Allmendinger (Dover)
Justin Haley (Kansas)
Kyle Larson (sonome)
Justin Allgaier wins Saturday was his second Xfinity win of the season. It marks the for the fifth time in the last six years, he has won multiple Xfinity races in a season†
It’s a big turnaround since he was in the Cup with a smaller team and struggled in 2014-15. He returned to Xfinity in 2016 and has been with JR Motorsports ever since. Fifteen of his 18 career wins have come after he returned from the Cup.
“Do I feel like I can still go to (Cup) and get in a good car and be competitive? Absolutely,” Allgaier said. “But the odds aren’t always the right odds. I love this series. I love this race team that I am a part of.”
Allgaier appreciates the situation he is in and sees how not having the right team can affect a driver’s career.
“There are some overly talented drivers on the Cup side who just don’t have the right situation,” said Allgaier. “I’m not saying it’s even a good car. Especially with the (Next Gen) car and the parity that there is with the car, every detail matters. You have the crew chief, the engineers and you have the pit crew and all these things that just fit together and work. That’s where we stand with this race team.”
The win is also the sixth in 15 races this year for JR Motorsports. The organization has won five of the last seven races.
Noah Gragson started the run with a win in Talladega. Josh Berry followed by winning in Dover. Allgaier made three in a row for the organization with his Darlington triumph. Berry later won at Charlotte. Then came Allgaier’s win in Nashville.
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Nashville win by Chase Elliott could have impact in playoffs originally appeared on NBCSports.com