Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
OBSERVATIONS: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
With every point and position mattering that much more, some drivers will be regretting their decisions on Sunday.
Ultimately, it proved to be tough to pass throughout the AAA Texas 500. Some drivers were able to make passes, but being able to balance running the bottom and the edge of the groove that the PJ1 had been applied certainly did not make it easy. That was showcased through the final run to the checkered which saw the field spread out with no big battles for position.
As a result, strategy to gain track position became critical throughout the event – which worked to the advantage of some in being able to get a strong finish.
While several of the playoff contenders were able to have strong finishes, including Kevin Harvick who punched his ticket to the Championship 4, there are others who have made the hole bigger for them moving forward.
Chase Elliott entered Sunday’s race in a hole following a broken axle at Martinsville Speedway. Now he has put himself in a “win or bust, no matter what” situation being over 60 points behind the cut-off following an incident on Lap 9. The Hendrick Motorsports driver tried to run the high line, getting loose and backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the wall.
Although he started off the playoffs with tons of momentum from a dominating performance at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, it has been rough since then with a blown motor at Dover International Speedway, a crash at Talladega Superspeedway, and the issues the past two weeks. By contending for the win at Kansas Speedway, he was able to squeak his way into the Round of 8 by a mere three points. Now it will take an even more commending performance if he wants to be part of the title battle.
Denny Hamlin also made a similar mistake to Elliott, getting sideways in turn four and spinning through the infield grass on Lap 80. As a result, he scored a 28th-place finish, giving up any cushion that he had over the cut-off line to now sit 20 behind Joey Logano for the last position.
Hamlin could point his way into the next round by simply beating Logano, but needs to be wary in doing so in case someone like Elliott or Kyle Larson pick up the checkered flag to move up the cut-off line. Therefore, competing for the win would be his best bet and that seems likely as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has ran well at ISM Raceway previously. He has scored a pair of top-five’s in past three trips to the desert.
Cream Rising to the Top
No matter the format to decide the champion, the best drivers are always going to rise to the top. Over the past couple seasons, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick have been part of the Championship 4 and will be once again this year. Considering both competitors have been on their game all through the playoffs, it will more than likely take winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure the title.
Over the past couple years, Kyle Busch has joined them, along with a fourth face that seems to change each season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver appears to have a good chance at doing so once again being 22 points above the cut-off, however these playoffs have proven to expect the unexpected. If he is off on his game at all next weekend, the No. 18 could be left on the outside looking in.
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