Although Kyle Busch’s backstretch pass of Chase Elliott at Dover International Speedway gave the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series its first true Game 7 moment of the 2017 playoffs, it didn’t alter the fundamental balance of power or the championship outlook for that matter.
Coming into the race, we all knew the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing are fast. Guess what? They still are.
Busch’s victory was the ninth in the last 12 races for the Toyota contingent.
We also knew that the new points system would greatly reward drivers who wracked up playoff points during the regular season.
That didn’t change either as Round 1 wrapped up.
Heading into Round 2 of the playoffs, points leader Martin Truex Jr. has 3059 points, Kyle Busch has 3041 and Kyle Larson has 3034. To advance to Round 3 of the playoffs, they have to finish Round 2 in the top eight in points. The driver currently ninth in points, Ryan Blaney, has just 3008 points.
With margins that big over ninth place, Truex, Busch and Larson all have a great shot at advancing to first Round 3 and then the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Conversely, the bottom four in points right now — Blaney, Chase Elliott (3006), Matt Kenseth (3005) and Jamie McMurray (3003) will have a hard time getting out of Round 2.
If you believe the top three seeds will advance and the bottom ones won’t, who becomes the fourth driver to contend for the title at Homestead? The most likely prospects are Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, with Denny Hamlin a possibility as well.
So the rest of the season is shaping as a battle among the drivers and teams who have been the best all season, and when you think about it, that’s as it should be.
On to Charlotte now for Round 2, and the intensity should just ratchet up. And it’s still anybody’s championship.