Twelve drivers are still in the hunt for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
championship with Kyle Busch making a dramatic late-race pass of Chase Elliott to win Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway, the third and final race in Round 1 of the Cup playoffs.
The win was the second in a row for Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team and the ninth in the last 12 races for Toyota. Elliott finished second ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.
Here are five things we learned following a typically raucous afternoon at the Monster Mile.
Thrill of Victory Agony of Defeat
Chase Elliott put on a tremendous show, but with two laps to go, he got passed on the backstretch by Kyle Busch, which means Elliott’s first career Cup race victory will have to wait.
Busch won his fourth race of the season and gave Toyota a sweep of all three races in the first round of the playoffs. “I don’t know, man, that was hard fought,” Busch said after taking the 42 checkered flag of his Cup career. “That was everything I had, obviously. I was trying to get there … I got momentum on the straightaway and that carried me by the 24 (Elliott).”
Elliott, understandably, was crestfallen afterwards.
“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” said Elliott, who led 137 laps, but couldn’t hold off the onrushing Busch when it mattered. “Golly, couldn’t have had it any easier. It went green from the stage break until the end and I gave it away.
For the first time this season, NASCAR modified the points system so that: A. Drivers could earn playoff points during the 26-race regular season; and B. Those playoff points will carry over from round to round.
That means there is a huge separation between the three guys at the top of the points — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch — and everyone else. In theory, Round 2 means 12 drivers are racing for the eight available slots in Round 3. But with Truex, Larson and Busch having so many points, it’s more like nine guys racing for the final five spots to joint the three leaders.
Talk about equality. Each manufacturer will send four drivers to Round 2 of the playoffs. Toyota drivers advancing are Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. From Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray are onto the second round, along with Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott from Hendrick Motorsports. The Ford contingent is represented by Brad Keselowski of Team Penske, Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Roush Fenway Racing.
JGR is the only team with three drivers still in the playoffs.
You Just Never Know
One of the day’s stranger incidents occurred on Lap 87, when Jeffrey Earnhardt slid and slammed into the sand-filled barrels at the entrance to pit road, which brought out a red flag. Because green-flag stops had already begun, there were only five cars on the lead lap – the ones who hadn’t pitted yet, which included Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick and David Ragan.
Stenhouse, one of the playoff drivers, benefitted hugely from this, as he finished fourth in Stage 1 and picked up 7 points as a result. He was the only bubble driver to get stage points. And those 7 points were what allowed him to knock Ryan Newman out of the playoffs.
No Seven-Time Miracle
Jimmie Johnson has seven Cup championships and 11 wins at the Monster Mile, but he came up short this time, finishing a respectable third. Johnson led 5 laps — the first laps he’s led since Daytona in July — but he was hardly the dominant force we’ve come to expect at Dover