This was a crazy round. Many surprises, wrecked racecars, and drivers cutting it much closer to the cut line than they wanted to. The races in this round of the Chase were Charlotte, Talladega, and Kansas. Looking at who won these races you may think that none of the races were out of the ordinary, but each race was filled with many surprises. You will learn this as I recap the last three races.
So Charlotte was the first race of the round of 12 in the Chase and Martin Truex and Kyle Busch had all the momentum coming into this round. So everyone, myself included, was expecting them to pick up right where they left off, and that pretty much happened, for one of them….kind of. Truex qualified 17th, which is very uncharacteristic for him, especially on a mile and a half track which he has dominated on this year. His average finishing position on mile-and-a-half tracks this year is just above 2, which is insane. But Truex being who he is fought through the adversity to take home the victory. This despite the fact that the race was dominated by Kevin Harvick, who led for almost half the race and won the first two stages. The biggest storyline coming out of this race was the underwhelming performance of Kyle Busch. Busch finished 29th in a race filled with problems. On lap 136, Busch slid up the track and hit the outside wall and his car was too damaged to make up much ground as a result. Busch’s car was also releasing fumes into the cockpit due to the damage from the crash. After the race, Busch climbed out of his car and lied down on the infield grass due to a mixture of exhaustion, a heat stroke, and carbon monoxide. But after getting medical attention, he was able to recover fully. Chase Elliot came home with yet another second place visit. It seems like he’s gonna finish in second every single race this postseason. But all these top two finishes is really making my “dark-horse Chase Elliot” pick look really good.
The second race of the Chase was at Talladega Superspeedway. Honestly, besides Watkins Glen, this race at Talladega is my next favorite race on the NASCAR calendar. The uncertainty and craziness of Talladega, combined with the stress of the knockout format of the Chase, makes for an amazing race that keeps me on the edge of my seat every year. Having this race in the third round of the Chase makes winning Charlotte the week before even more important, so you can come into Talladega with a spot locked for the next round of the Chase. This race at Talladega was unlike any race I’ve ever seen there before. 40 undamaged cars started the race 14 cars crossed the finish line at the end. 14!!! The race included three red flag periods that totaled just over 35 minutes. Not including the stoppages, the race still lasted 3 hours and 53 minutes. The only playoff drivers that crossed the finish line at the end of the race were Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. The other 10 remaining drivers did not finish due to damage that they had received. The first playoff driver to suffer damage was Jamie McMurray on lap 25, when he was involved in a three-car wreck and got t-boned by Jeffery Earnhardt. On lap 172, the big one hit. A 16-car pileup caused by Martin Truex included the other playoff drivers of Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and, my pick to win the race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This wreck alone really shook up the Chase standings and outlook, leaving drivers such as Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson in danger of not making the second round.
The next incident involving playoff contenders happened just six laps later on lap 178 which fully ended Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney’s day, the latter of which led 27 laps which was the second most. The wreck was caused by Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne bouncing off each other. This sent Logano up the track into Blaney. Blaney and Bayne spun out and Blaney was eventually hit by Kevin Harvick, ending both of their days. The final accident happened on lap 183, which involved Chase Elliot and Kyle Larson and four other non-playoff drivers. Elliot and Larson were battling for the lead with Daniel Suarez when the three of them made contact and caused a six-car pileup. By this time, there were only 14 cars left running, some with minor damage they had received being involved in a wreck, but not enough to take them out of the race. The strongest car that was still running by the end of the race was by far Brad Keselowski. He completed a textbook final lap pass on Ryan Newman to take the win in one of the wildest NASCAR races I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching NASCAR for as long as I can remember.
The last race of this round of the Chase was held at Kansas Motor Speedway. Usually, a race at Kansas wouldn’t peak my interest, but this one did. There was a lot on the line in this race. Ryan Blaney was 9 points to the good, but due to a penalty had to start in 40th. He was going to need to work his way up through the field throughout the race, and he did just that. Blaney ended up finishing third in one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen by any driver this season. Other big storylines going into this race were that of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, starting the race before the cut line and being in danger of getting eliminated. Kyle Busch did what he needed to do, finishing 10th and squeaking his way into the round of 8. Johnson had a very eventful day after spinning twice and narrowly avoiding a big crash on lap 198 propelled him into the round of 8. He was given a lucky break after a penalty sidelined Matt Kenseth for the remainder of the race after he was involved in the crash, allowing Johnson to leapfrog him into the next round. The biggest surprise of the race, and I think the entire Chase involved Kyle Larson, one of my final four “locks.” Larson had an engine failure that led to him retiring from the race and being knocked out of the playoffs in the round of 12, even though he had a 29 point cushion going into the race. The winner of the race, once again, was Martin Truex, after overcoming an unscheduled pit stop due to a loose wheel and a restart violation that led to a drive-through penalty.
So after this crazy round of the Chase, only 8 drivers remain. If you would like to see how the points currently stack up, click here. In terms of predictions, it’s getting harder and harder to go against Martin Truex. And now that my championship pick, Kyle Larson, is out, there is no reason for me to pick anyone else besides Truex. But, stranger things have happened. Especially with Martinsville coming up this weekend, which has proven over the years to get pretty crazy. But, I’m still going to go with Truex as my pick from here on out.
In terms of the final four, it’s actually pretty hard to tell. Chase Elliot is still going, so he, and Kyle Busch are still two of my other final four drivers. For a bold prediction, look for Chase Elliot to win a race to solidify his spot in the final four. But now that Kyle Larson is out, that opens the door for someone new. And as much as I want to say Ryan Blaney because he is my favorite, I’m going to have to go with, and it pains me to say this, Brad Keselowski. He is my final selection to make the final round of the Chase now that Larson is gone. But in all honesty, I don’t think it’s going to matter who the other three drivers will be because Martin Truex is just on an entirely different level. But everyone loves a good underdog story and its starting to seem like if anyone else wins the championship it would be quite the upset.