How to describe these Cup qualifiers?
Well, Kevin Harvick came up with a catchphrase for why he’s no longer competing for a championship. He put it on a T-shirt. For $20 you can have one.
But there are other ways to look at what happened and what could happen in the second round at Texas, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.
After three races, these playoffs have seen fire and rain (both at Darlington) and much more.
All four playoff drivers with past, present or future ties to Richard Childress Racing were eliminated. Two former champions are gone. A newcomer to the playoffs with a top 10 in the last five month (!!) advanced to the second round. The series leader at the end of the first round is now tied for the last transfer spot entering the second round after the points reset.
“When it comes to the cut line, nobody’s safe,” said former champion Chase Elliott, who enters this round as the points leader.
Oh yeah, each of the first three races of the playoffs was won by a driver who didn’t make the playoffs: Erik Jones (Darlington), Bubba Wallace (Kansas) and Chris Buescher (Bristol).
This has never happened before.
“Imagine if the playoffs started a few weeks later,” Joey Logano said. “Damn cow. What a crazy year, it’s what we expected. We expected this year to be very unpredictable and no one can really understand this car, and it really seems like there’s still so many questions.”
Yes there is.
Will the chaos continue? Will non-elimination drivers continue to win? Who is the next former champion eliminated? Who’s the next surprise to come forward? What will be the impact of the Next Gen car on these playoffs?
“This car reset everything,” said Ross Chastain. “Like you can’t bring different headers here. You cannot bring a new aero package.
“You try to maximize everything, but we all have the same parts. You can’t build a new right front pin and save it for the playoffs. You can’t bring different brake pads that they found better in testing and bring them now. There is nothing else to bring. We all order the same products.
“It was the biggest reset the sport has ever seen.
With Talladega in the upcoming round – where anyone can win – and the Charlotte Roval as the cut-off race – imagine if it rains there – round two could be more volatile than round one. This makes Sunday’s race at Texas critical for teams due to the uncertainty of the next two races.
Logano noted how different it will be this time around compared to when NASCAR held its All-Star race there in May.
“The car has grown and changed,” he said. “It’s going to be different from where we were last time. The weather will be different. The resin and how it is applied – that sort of thing – will be different. IndyCar has raced there since we’ve been there, so there are a lot of changes that can happen, but the next round is pretty tough.
“When you think Texas is maybe the most normal race and you have the Roval and Talladega on top of that, it’s definitely going to be a one-off, like it always has been.”
Although there remained questions about the safety aspects of the Next Gen car and it was criticized for the way it raced on short tracks, the new car performed better on 1.5 mile tracks. Sunday’s race in Texas returns to these tracks.
Three of the next five playoff races will be on 1.5-mile tracks (Texas in round two and Las Vegas and Homestead in round three). This could have an impact on who moves forward.
Another key is resetting points.
Christopher Bell averaged a 4.0 in the first run and was the points leader when the checkered flag was waved in Bristol last weekend.
The other 12 playoff drivers had their points increased to 3,000 and then their playoff points were added. While Bell won a stage at Bristol to pick up a playoff point, he didn’t score as many playoff points as the others. The result is that he will start this round tied with Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney for the final transfer spot.
The four drivers outside the transfer point entering this round are Chase Briscoe (-4 points from the cut line), Alex Bowman (-6), Daniel Suarez (-6) and Austin Cindric (-7).
Briscoe has advanced despite finishing top 10 in the past 21 races, dating back to early April. He finished 27th (Darlington), 13th (Kansas) and 14th (Bristol) in the first round. It was good enough to put 14 points ahead of Tyler Reddick, the highest points driver eliminated on the first lap.
“Guys are going to keep eliminating each other,” Briscoe said. “We just have to limit our mistakes. If we do that, we know we need to have a bit more speed, but if we can just eliminate our mistakes, it gives us a chance to move on to the next lap.
Anything is possible in these unpredictable playoffs.