Never one to believe a dramatic finish can make up for a lackluster race, I was left feeling underwhelmed following the Sylvania 300. However, the unbelievable turn of events at the end of the second Chase race in New Hampshire did at least provide some talking points.
To start, it’s still Joe Gibbs Racing’s world and we’re all just living in it. Sunday was their 12th win the season, fourth straight and they now have two drivers automatically moving onto the Contender Round.
Matt Kenseth earned his fifth win the season when Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel with three laps remaining. It was Kenseth’s second win in three weeks. Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin, who won last weekend in Chicago, finished second.
Now the Chase moves on to Dover and the first four eliminations. And the way things have been shaping up it could include a few drivers many had penciled deep into the playoffs.
One Last Chance for Harvick
Kevin Harvick knew winning on Sunday would erase the memory – and consequence – of finishing 42nd at Chicago. Instead, the defending series champion not only came up short but very short with he ran out of fuel in New Hampshire.
His 21st place finish puts him 15th on the Chase Grid with 23 points separating him from moving into the Contender Round. If that number intimidates you, it should. It’s a boatload of points Harvick needs to pick up in Dover and on the surface it doesn’t seem likely.
It’s possible, but Harvick is more than likely staring at a must-win scenario at a track he’s never won at before. Even worse, his average finish is 14.7 at Dover with 29 starts and only four top-five finishes. The good news is that Harvick finished second at Dover in the spring.
The bad news is that the way this Chase has been going if you don’t drive for Joe Gibbs Racing you shouldn’t take solace in what’s supposed to happen. Harvick is in trouble heading into Dover and whether the blame is on a faulty fuel cell, not getting the tank full, or Rodney Childers not having a live video feed, this team is the biggest storyline in the Chase.
It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish
Harvick isn’t the only big name in trouble. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Greg Ives have done everything right the first two weeks of the Chase – except finish where they need to.
Last weekend at Chicago, Earnhardt Jr. was one of the strongest cars as he ran top-10 throughout the myAFibRisk.com 400. When the dust settled, and pit strategy played itself out, Earnhardt Jr. wound up 12th. Not bad, but certainly not good enough when it comes to the Chase.
Sunday in New Hampshire, it was more of the same. Actually, Earnhardt Jr. looked even better as he challenged inside the top-five for much of the afternoon. Considering how the Hendrick Motorsports driver performed at New Hampshire in July, it was a welcome sight for his fans.
Then pit strategy struck again, and Earnhardt Jr. was among those running out of fuel with less than five laps to go. He finished 25th and falls to 12th, the last advancing spot, on the Chase Grid. But he has no more room for error heading into Dover because his gap to 13th is non-existent at one point.
With how the first two races have bitten this team, there should be some nervousness when it comes to Dover. Because just like Kevin Harvick, the No. 88 might be one of the strongest cars in the Chase, but points aren’t awarded until the checkered flag flies.
NASCAR Puts Their Foot Down
Another week, another restart controversy as NASCAR finally did what many have been calling for. Brad Keselowski was black flagged for jumping the final restart of the afternoon and relegated to a finish outside the top-10.
On one hand, good for NASCAR for doing what the drivers wanted them to do. But on the other hand, Sunday proved restarts are far more complicated then they need to be. After weeks of complaining drivers were going before the restart zone, Keselowski went while in the restart zone but because NASCAR deemed he did so before the leader did, it was a violation.
So my question is, why do we need an entire zone? If the leader is supposed to start the race, give them a single line they need to go by or tough luck. We’ve long past what double file restarts are meant to do because of the constant shenanigans being played and cries of what is fair and what is foul.
Drivers can’t go before the zone, and now it’s clear they can’t go in the zone – if they aren’t the leader. Why is this so hard? Where are there so many rules? Let’s race and stop talking about restarts every weekend.
By the letter of the law, NASCAR made the right call on Sunday. The law, however, might need some revisions because clearly restarts are far too hard for the best drivers in NASCAR.
- Matt Kenseth
- Denny Hamlin (-6)
- Carl Edwards (-10)
- Joey Logano (-10)
- Jimmie Johnson (-16)
- Ryan Newman (-25)
- Kurt Busch (-26)
- Brad Keselowski (-27)
- Martin Truex Jr. (-28)
- Jeff Gordon (-31)
- Jamie McMurray (-41)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-42)
- Kyle Busch (-43)
- Paul Menard (-43)
- Kevin Harvick (-65)
- Clint Bowyer (-81)
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