Mistakes Prove Costly for Playoff Contenders
Entering any points battle, drivers typically harp on a single thought – don’t take yourself out of contention with a mistake. Ultimately, some contenders failed to adhere to old saying on Friday night in the Jag Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway, now finding themselves on the cusp of elimination.
John Hunter Nemechek entered the second event of the Round of 6 already behind, after hitting the wall at Martinsville Speedway due to no brakes. While poised for a solid top-10 to put himself on the edge of possibly being able to make it on points, he ran out of fuel with 13 laps to go and spent time stalled on pit road, finishing 19th. Now he enters next weekend sitting 39 markers behind the cut-line, ultimately in a win or bust scenario.
For Ben Rhodes, it was a pit road mistake that leaves him sitting five points behind the cut line. After making his final stop, he had to come back down due to missing a lug nut on the right front wheel. As a result, he finished 18th rather than inside the top-10 where he had run much of the night.
“We had a couple of bad pit stops, we had a loose wheel, and a pit gun broke and miscommunication on pit road, so we had to come back in so we ended up however many laps down,” Rhodes said post-race. “Just a tough night, now we’re on the outside of the Playoffs looking in, and we’ll just have to make something happen at Phoenix.”
Matt Crafton also experienced trouble on pit road with his crew jumping over the wall too soon on Lap 73, forcing him to drop from the top-10 to the tail end of the field on the restart. He fought hard to make up ground, finishing ninth. Without the penalty, he felt they could have scored a top-five.
Unlike Nemechek and Rhodes, though, Crafton is sitting pretty safe in points right now with a 24 marker cushion back to the cut line, thanks to stage points and a runner-up last week at Martinsville.
“It hurt us, and that put us far behind right there at the end,” Crafton said. “The truck was the best it was all night there on that last run. Just a guy came over the wall too soon and had to go to the back. Just can’t pass here, it’s next to impossible right now.”
Next weekend at Phoenix, everything is on the line for these three competitors, along with Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric, as they try to join Johnny Sauter in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the pressure ramping up, the possibility for more mistakes increases as noticed at Texas, and at Martinsville with a slow pit stop for Sauter causing him valuable track position.
While putting themselves in contention up front will be vital to gaining valuable points, avoiding making a mistake will be critical in making sure they’re not eliminated.
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