My, oh my, what intense webs that weave. The last week has been wildly intense and costly for the sport.
Let’s try to capture this in a quick fashion.
Last Sunday, Kevin Harvick picks up win number eight this season, afterwards getting a young fan from the stands who was taking a picture, and instead gave him the ultimate selfie on the track, with the driver, in front of the winning car.
That win locked him into the Championship 4 and an opportunity to clinch a second title. It was the most important win of the season…until it meant nothing.
Three days later, NASCAR makes the announcement that when the car was taken to the Research and Development Center in Charlotte for the full tear-down, one misstep on the rear of the car changed his course. The rear spoiler was not meeting specifications as to being mounted on the rear deck lid.
The penalty: the points earned in the last stage of that victory, gone. Next, the crew chief and car chief are suspended for the remainder of the season. But, the biggest hit, that victory now meant nothing in regards to the championship. Harvick had to re-earn his spot in the title picture.
He started now instead of a secured spot, just four points above the cutoff. Despite being at Phoenix, the new track configuration made it a challenge since the speedway had to be run an entirely different way. At Stage 1, he seemed to have it on lock, leading every lap…until two laps remaining. A cut tire made him pit out of sequence, and serve a penalty because per NASCAR rules, pit road closes with two laps to go at the end of stages 1 and 2.
But, in the end, he fought back and gained enough to make it into the title picture, joining the other pair of the “Big Three” for the 2018 season, plus Joey Logano.
So now, Playoff points are done for the year. For the top four, stage points won’t be handed out. All that matters in the final race of the year is the finishing position at the end of the final lap. Just as has been the case since 2014, the first driver of the Championship 4 to cross the finish line at the end of next Sunday’s event at Homestead-Miami Speedway will win the second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship.
The gloves come off now…every man for himself. To quote legendary MMA referee “Big John” McCarthy…Let’s get it on!
STAGE 1: Chase Elliott
STAGE 2: Kyle Busch
RESULTS: 1-Kyle Busch 2-Keselowski 3-Larson 4-Almirola 5-Harvick 6-McMurray 7-Kenseth 8-Dillon 9-Byron 10-Wallace
NOTABLE FINISHES: 14-Truex Jr. 15-Johnson 23-Elliott 32-Kurt Busch 35-Bowyer 37-Logano
CAUTIONS: 10 for 61 laps. Lap 77-83 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 97-105 (#22 Spin-T1); 135-140 (#14 Incident-T4); 152-158 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 230-235 (#97 Spin-T2); 241-244 (#4, 38 Incident-T3); 264-268 (#17 Incident-T1[Red Flag: 10 Mins, 28 Secs.] ); 270-275 (#9, 41, 11, 88 Incident-BS); 287-292 (#88 Incident-T2[Red Flag: 5 Mins, 56 Secs.]); 296-300 (#97 Incident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 8 drivers. K. Harvick 1-72; C. Elliott 73-78; R. Blaney 79; C. Elliott 80-83; Kurt Busch 84-135; R. Blaney 136; M. Truex Jr. 137-143; Kyle Busch 144-224; C. Elliott 225-230; R. Blaney 231; B. Keselowski 232-243; M. Truex Jr. 244; B. Keselowski 245-264; K. Harvick
265; E. Jones 266-276; Kyle Busch (P) 277-312.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 10 Mins, 20 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 98.354 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.501 Seconds
PLAYOFF STANDINGS: Championship 4 (All have 5000 points)-Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick; 5. Elliott, -2680; 6. Kurt Busch, -2682; 7. Almirola, -2684; 8. Keselowski, -2691; 9. Blaney, -2722; 10. Larson, -2744; 11. Hamlin, -2748; 12. Bowyer, -2758; 13. Dillon, -2781; 14. Johnson, -2783; 15. Jones, -2793; 16. Bowman, -2804.