It was last week when I mentioned about the post-race insanity between Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. The pressure seemed to be getting to the highest point after everything that happened due to the fact that one driver was now in need of a miracle to make the next round of the Chase, while the other two were on the bubble of being either in or out.
The pressure of making the next round for Keselowski became a “win or nothing” attitude, especially since he was handed down penalties for his involvement in the post-race happenings.
He was one of three drivers that were in the situation where realistically, the only way to make the Chase was to flat out win the race. It didn’t matter how many laps were led to get there, all that mattered was to be the first car to the checkered flag, ensuring that birth in the next round.
Considering the third race of the Contender Round is at a track where control is beyond the drivers’ hands, and relying on others is what gets the victory, Keselowski was in a bad position. He, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson all were in the situation where they had to win, nothing else mattered.
Before getting to Keselowski, let’s first get it said that the latter two did not make the cut for the Chase.
Earnhardt Jr. was charging to the front on a late restart, when a clip from behind when Greg Biffle got tagged, and sent him into Junior ended that hope. Despite all the strong cars, the three wins, and the strong finishes, the last three races were what mattered, and they all weren’t good. Then, move on to Johnson. Keep in mind, this is a guy who one year ago was celebrating his sixth championship, all in the Chase era and also doing so in three different Chase formats (10-driver, 12-driver, and 12-driver with Wild Card additions).
The new 4-round format put them in a different situation, and having bad runs at Kansas and Charlotte, two tracks where they are expected to be strong (one of which he won at earlier this year), he struggled, and was in a situation where the 48-team was unfamiliar.
The new Chase format is no longer a 10-race run to run well at the strongest tracks, because in three races, a championship dream could end. For Johnson, it ended on Sunday, meaning he, Junior, and Kasey Kahne (all three Hendrick Motorsports drivers), were on the outside looking in.
But what about Keselowski?
Well, as the picture shows, he somehow found a way to get out front and make it count. He already had damage from an earlier wreck, but not enough to get concerned, especially since it was at the door instead of corner areas. He felt confident he could make it up to the front, even though the only folks that probably would help him on the track were teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.
Logano proved to be the only friend he needed when it counted, because he got the push needed on the final restart, and put him out front for that final lap. He would make it to the Chase, meaning another driver originally that was in would be now out, and thanks to an accident in the middle of the race, the other driver left on the outside looking in would be Kyle Busch.
So now, we are once again at a reset in points. The top eight drivers are all at 4000 points. There’s no seeding, no wins determining who’s at the top. It’s once again all even.
Next week, the Eliminator Round begins, and the quest for the title continues through the next three races, where after that it will be reduced to four for the final race of the year.
NOTE: Ryan Newman’s 5th-place car was the random draw for post-race inspection. His car failed that inspection, having been determined to be too low on both rear corners of the chassis. It is possible that he will be docked points. Newman is one of the eight drivers that advanced into the Eliminator Round of the Chase after Sunday’s race.
Under NASCAR’s new penalty policy, this infraction is a P3-level, which would carry a 10-point penalty. However, NASCAR could determine it is a P4-level penalty, which would carry a 35-point penalty. Of that, 25 points would be for the actual infraction, while the additional 10 would be due to the fact the infraction was discovered in post-race inspection.
Penalties could come as early as Monday and as late as Tuesday. Newman was 27 points above where the cutoff was to the Chase prior to the reset. If Newman’s penalty is determined to be a P4, then he could likely be taken out of the Eliminator Round. The penalties are able to be appealed prior to next week’s race at Martinsville if any are announced.
RESULTS: 1-Keselowski 2-Kenseth 3-Bowyer 4-Cassill 5-Newman 6-Kvapil 7-Kurt Busch 8-Ambrose 9-Harvick 10-Mears
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Logano 12-Kahne 18-Hamlin 19-Patrick 21-Edwards 24-Johnson 26-Gordon 31-Earnhardt Jr. 40-Kyle Busch
CAUTIONS: 6 for 25 laps. Lap 61-65 (#22, 1, 2, 4, 95, 18 Accident-FS), 104-108 (#18, 43, 83, 47, 32, 23, 14, 15, 3, 55 Accident-BS), 132-135 (Debris-FS), 176-179 (#42 Spin-T1 & T2), 185-187 (Debris-FS), 189-192 (#88, 27, 38, 7, 16 Accident-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 38 among 19 drivers. Vickers POLE, Johnson 1, Blaney 2-14, Johnson 15-25, Keselowski 26-28, Johnson 29-38, Hamlin 39, Stewart 40-44, Kahne 45, Biffle 46, McMurray 47-49, Keselowski 50, Kahne 51-61, Ragan 62, Kenseth 63, Johnson 64-74, Earnhardt Jr. 75-103, Gilliland 104-105, Gordon 106, Blaney 107-108, Cassill 109, Earnhardt Jr. 110-111, Harvick 112-113, Johnson 114-132, Whitt 133, Johnson 134-137, Keselowski 138, Johnson 139-162, Truex Jr. 163, Johnson 164-166, Patrick 167-173, Ragan 174, Gordon 175-176, Newman 177-181, Johnson 182, Newman 183-186, Keselowski 187-192, Newman 193, Keselowski 194.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 13 Mins, 9 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 160.302 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.141 Seconds.
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1-8 (All reset to 4000 points for Eliminator Round)-Logano (5 wins), Harvick (3 wins), Newman, Hamlin (1 win), Kenseth, Edwards (2 wins), Gordon (4 wins), Keselowski (6 wins); 9. Kyle Busch, -1807; 10. Allmendinger, -1837; 11. Johnson, -1848; 12. Biffle, -1853; 13. Kurt Busch, -1854; 14. Kahne, -1864; 15. Earnhardt Jr, -1865; 16. Almirola, -1899.
*Top-8 points reset, move into the Eliminator Round