It doesn’t matter how dominant a driver you are, nor how many wins have been achieved at this point in the season. When it comes to the playoffs, it’s about the here and now, the race that is happening, and nothing else.
Dover began the second round of the playoffs for NASCAR, a new beginning since the previous four years, it was the event that concluded the first round.
But, the mentality changed because with the standings reset, the new focus is to achieve a victory in this round. Everything has reset, and just like the first round…win the race, move onto the next round.
Honestly, winning this race takes so much pressure off, because of the unknown that comes from Talladega, which I will explain more of come next week.
But, even this race is a game of chess because this time, the driver who had Stage 1 and Stage 2 in the bank faltered late due to a slight pit crew miscue, that being knocking off a valve stem. Then there’s Clint Bowyer, who led late but then felt something break in his car, and ultimately send him into the wall after what was thought to be repairs. Finally, Aric Almirola saw a big lead disappear when Bowyer had trouble, and ultimately he got swept up in a large wreck that he accidentally began.
So how important is winning Dover, especially as a playoff driver? Enough to stay out on old tires and risk either getting dropped like an anvil from ones with newer Goodyears if you’re Chase Elliott. But, thanks to that particular move, Elliott has his second win of the 2018 season, the second of his career, and now has no worries for the rest of this round. His spot in the Round of 8 is secured.
How important is winning in the playoffs? Is it enough to risk everything? Absolutely, especially when the unknown does have one fact attached to it.
Welcome to playoff racing, where every point counts that much more, and every win ultimately means an opportunity for a championship.
STAGE 1: Kevin Harvick
STAGE 2: Kevin Harvick
RESULTS: 1-Elliott 2-Hamlin 3-Logano 4-Jones 5-Kurt Busch 6-Harvick 7-Dillon 8-Kyle Busch 9-Stenhouse Jr. 10-Suarez
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Blaney 12-Larson 13-Almirola 14-Keselowski 15-Truex Jr. 28-Bowman 35-Bowyer 36-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 5 for 31 laps. Lap 122-128 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 242-247 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 340-348 (Debris-T3 and 4); 393-396 (#14 Incident-T3); 398-402 (#2,88,10, 78, 12 Incident-BS [Red Flag-4 Mins, 59 Secs.]).
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 8 drivers. Ky. Busch 1-15; K. Harvick 16-74; R. Stenhouse Jr. 75-81; K. Harvick 82-126; J. Logano 127-128; K. Harvick 129-189; B. Keselowski 190; K. Busch 191-194; K. Harvick 195-242; C. Bowyer 243; K. Harvick 244-320; K. Busch 321-322; A. Almirola 323-341; B. Keselowski 342-348; A. Almirola 349-393; C. Elliott 394-404.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 18 Mins, 2 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 122.404 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.265 Seconds
PLAYOFF STANDINGS (Points/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Harvick, 3101 ; 2. Kyle Busch, -5 ; 3. Truex Jr, -31 ; 4. Logano, -37 ; 5. Elliott*, -45 ; 6. Kurt Busch, -47 ; 7. Keselowski, -47 ; 8. Blaney, -58 ; 9. Almirola, -68 ; 10. Bowyer, -68 ; 11. Larson, -70 ; 12. Bowman, -92; 13. Dillon, -1000; 14. Johnson, -1003; 15. Hamlin, -1007; 16. Jones, -1022.
*Locked into Round of 8