NASCAR Cup Playoff Update after Dover

One weekend into a three-weekend “mini-season” isn’t time to panic… or is it? Maybe yes and maybe no. In either case, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott will almost certainly spend some restless nights before next weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series handwringer at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

As Kyle Larson celebrated winning at Dover to qualify for Round 3 of the Playoffs, Logano, Blaney and Elliott were licking their wounds. Logano had pre-race transmission problems and lost 24 laps before making a lap in his Team Penske Ford. Blaney was headed for a respectable day until the engine in his Team Penske Ford went sour after 320 laps. And Elliott said he was simply making early laps when the engine in his Henrick Motorsports Chevrolet died.

Logano managed to come back for most of the race and finished 34th. Blaney’s engine woes were terminal, leaving him 35th. Elliott was a dead-last 38th. They are the lowest-ranked Playoff drivers as the tour heads to Talladega. With his first-ever Dover victory, Larson will advance to Round 3 at Martinsville, Fort Worth and Phoenix regardless of what happens the next two weekends at Talladega or Kansas City.

His victory was his first this year, the sixth of his career at Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing, his Dover breakthrough and his first since Richmond in the fall of 2017, a span of 76 starts. He led four times for 154 of the 400 laps, including the final 73 in beating fellow Playoff drivers Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Non-playoff drivers Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch (the first driver a lap down) were seventh-eighth-ninth. Playoff driver Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-10. Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and William Byron were 11th and 13th.

Hamlin, the pole-winner, looked unbeatable early. He led four times for 218 of the first 228 laps, giving it up only as pit stops cycled through. But after being so strong early – he won Stage 1 and was third in Stage 3 — he faded badly (relatively speaking) shortly after halfway. “Once I lost the lead and lost clean air, I got tight,” he said. “It was so difficult to pass, and I backpedaled from there. Top-five at this track? I’ll take it every week.”

 

Like every Playoff driver, Larson wasn’t looking forward to Talladega, where everything bad that can happen usually does. “It’s just awesome to get a win and not have to worry about Talladega,” he said. “I don’t like that place, so it’s pretty neat to do what we did. We wanted to win a points race (he won the All-Star exhibition race in May) and we did it when it mattered. It’s going to be nice to not necessarily relax these next two, but to not have to worry about Talladega. This is sweet.”

Not so sweet for Logano and Elliott.

“Something back there wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do,” Logano said, pointing out the obvious. “It was a bummer; things happen. We’ve definitely used our mulligan (so) we just have to be perfect now. We have two really good racetracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best racetracks and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here.”

Elliott was equally as obvious. “We don’t know what it was just yet,” he said. “It just quit running. It didn’t really seem like anything was off. We were just kind of making laps and then obviously had a failure. It’s an unfortunate way to start this round for sure. I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks. If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there (anyway). I guess it’s a good opportunity to practice here these next few weeks.”

With his runner-up finish, Truex Jr. build his points lead to 15 over Hamlin and Kyle Busch, his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. Harvick trails Truex Jr. by 21, Larson by 32 (with that free pass into Round 3) and Keselowski by 43. The back half of the 12 championship contenders are Bowman (behind by 46 points), Byron and Logano (63), Bowyer (67), Elliott (70) and Blaney (85).

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

Sights from the NASCAR action at Dover International Speedway, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019

1.Kyle Larson
2.Martin Truex +63
3.Denny Hamlin +48
4.Kyle Busch +48
5.Kevin Harvick +42
6.Brad Keselowski +20
7.Alex Bowman +17
8.William Byron +0

9.Joey Logano -0
10.Clint Bowyer -4
11.Chase Elliott -7
12.Ryan Blaney -22

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