Charlotte Motor Speedway, October 8, 2017, 1:00 pm
Round Two of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs fired off at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The starting time of the Bank of America 500 moved to 1:00 pm in an effort to get ahead of the rain predicted from the remnants of Hurricane Nate.
Playoff contender and 2017 defending Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson(48) started 25th, due to a poor qualifying effort. The lowest position on the grid of the 12 remaining playoff competitors. Charlotte has been good to the 48 team, recording eight victories at the mile and a half track. Including four in a row from 2004-05. The hottest driver on the circuit, Martin Truex Jr.(78), only managed a 17th starting position. Driver’s struggled with a slick track during Friday’s qualifying session.
Pole sitter Denny Hamlin(11) led the first 35 laps despite frequent challenges from Kevin Harvick(4). NASCAR scheduled a “Competition Caution” at lap 35, due to overnight rain showers. By the time the yellow flag waved Johnson had moved to the 14th position, while Truex Jr. sat eighth.
Hamlin exited the pits first. But on the restart, last weeks near-miss driver, Chase Elliott(24) blew past Hamlin to take the lead. The first accident related caution of the day occurred when Ryan Newman spun on lap 43. Clint Bowyer sustained sheet metal damage from contact with Newman and the wall. Bowyer continued after a pit stop for repairs, Newman’s car was towed to the garage.
During the caution, brought out by Newman’s wreck, the leaders stayed on the track. Driver’s at the rear of the lead lap pitted for adjustments to improve ill-handling race cars. When the race returned to green, Harvick managed to make the pass on Elliott that he could not accomplish when trailing Hamlin.
Stages One and Two consist of 90 laps each at Charlotte. After watching Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) advance out of the first round of the playoffs on Stage Points. Every playoff driver is aware of the importance of fighting for those points awarded to the top ten drivers at the end of each stage. Harvick held on to the lead until the green and white checkered flag signaled the end of Stage One. Harvick earned the 10 point bonus for the Stage Victory. Johnson finished 10th to capture 1 stage point. Truex Jr. missed the top 10.
Stage One Results
|Position||Car Number||Driver||Points Earned|
|8||41||Kurt Busch (NP)||3|
NP=Non Playoff Competitor
After the stage ending caution, Jamie McMurray(1) exited the pits first. Kyle Busch(18) second, Harvick third, Kyle Larson(42) fourth, and Kenseth(20) fifth. In keeping with the previous restarts the second place car, Busch, gets a huge run and takes the lead. Harvick tried to regain the top spot, running door to door with the 18 for two laps. Before settling in behind Busch. Larson joined the leaders as the top three cars pulled away slightly from the rest of the field.
Slick Racing Conditions Still Plague Drivers
On lap 115, the car of Michael McDowell slid sideways off of turn 2 to bring out the caution again. The top two remained the same with Kyle Busch out of the pits first. Followed by Harvick and Kenseth moving up into the third position. Yes, Harvick moved to the lead after the restart, proving that starting second seems to provide an advantage over the leader.
Kyle Busch brought out the fifth caution of the day on lap 136. The 18 car sliding into the wall between turns three and four. Heavy damage to the right rear kept the car in the pits as the crew rushed to repair the car within the five-minute time limit. Busch lost one lap but beat the timer allowing him to remain in the race.
As Busch’s crew worked on his car the field pitted for tires and fuel. Harvick led off pit road with Kenseth in second. For the first time today, the leader held the top spot multiple laps back under the green. The top 11 cars, all playoff contenders with the exception of eighth place Kurt Busch. Brad Keselowski(2) struggling to move to the front sat 16th. Busch returned to the race in 31st. He lost another lap before the conclusion of Stage Two.
Stage Two Results
|Position||Car Number||Driver||Points Earned|
|5||41||Kurt Busch (NP)||6|
NP=Non Playoff Competitor
With the race coming to the final stage, the cream rose to the top. Kyle Busch remained mired still in 31st position. The remaining 11 playoff drivers held all but two of the top 13 positions.
Harvick again paced the field as the race returned to green for the final Stage. He quickly built a 15 car lead as Truex Jr. drove into second. However, the 78 car began chipping away at Harvick’s lead which had grown to over two seconds. The pair of leaders pitted under green on lap 226 of the scheduled 334 making up the 500 miles. Truex Jr. cut the lead to .7 seconds on the previous lap.
Exiting the pits Truex left first, Harvick second. With their positions reversed Truex built a two-second lead on the number 4 car. With 91 laps to go Larson passed Harvick and closed the difference behind Truex to 1.2 seconds. Working through lapped traffic, Larson closed to within .25 seconds of Truex
More On-track Chaos
David Ragan(38) lost it in turn two sliding down the track directly in front of Danica Patrick(10). She T-boned him in the side sending both cars to the garage. The leaders pitted for fuel and tires at the edge of their fuel window to possibly finish the race. Larson beat Truex off pit road.
Byron, Michigan’s Erik Jones(77) started 38th. Jones did not post a qualifying speed Friday. His crew unable to get the car through inspection in time to make it onto the track. He broke a shock mount early in the race today and lost three laps in the pits while the crew repaired the broken part. Using smart race strategy with caution period wave-arounds and lucky-dogs advances, Jones made it back to the lead lap on the Ragan-Patrick caution.
Back under green Larson maintained the lead. Harvick passed Truex. Jimmy Johnson had worked his way into fourth. Non Playoff competitor Kurt Busch held the fifth spot. Kyle Busch ended the fuel mileage debate, wrecking again on lap 278. Everyone on the lead lap pitted for the splash of fuel that would take them to lap 334.
More Pit Road Trouble
The quick yellow was a huge advantage for Jones who took the wave-around on the previous caution. Back on the lead lap, the 77 crew was able to fully service the race car. But, the stop was costly for Larson who dropped to the 11th position. Jimmie Johnson also had trouble on the pit stop, attempting to leave the pit before the left front wheel was tight. He dropped to the 15th position for the restart.
As the field sorted out with 45 laps to go Truex led. Harvick ran in the second spot, McMurray third, Kurt Busch fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth. At the 20 laps to go mark the top two remained the same. Elliott moved into third, Kurt Busch fourth, and Larson back into the top five.
Larson sat fourth with 10 laps to go when the caution flew again for Kyle Busch and his crippled car. Setting up a dash to the finish. Who would pit for tires and who would gamble on track position. Everyone determined tires were essential to compete and all the lead lap cars pitted.
The Race to the Finish
Truex exited first, Hamlin second, Elliott third, and Larson fourth. Brad Keselowski(2) made his first appearance among the leaders, restarting fifth. Ricky Stenhouse, too fast on pit road dropped to 20th on the restart.
Back to green, Truex jumped to a big lead as Elliott and Hamlin raced side-by-side for second. Kurt Busch and Larson also went door-to-door for fourth. Busch lost control in turn two, just clipping Larson. Not sure if there was damage to his car Larson opted to stay out as the race went to overtime.
Remarkably the race stayed green as driver’s battled three and four wide to the white flag. Truex Jr. easily held on for the win. For the second week in a row Elliott placed second. Although likely feeling much better about this run than the previous heartbreaker. The playoff drivers all finished in the top 15, except Kyle Busch who finished 29th.
Busch collapsed to the tri-oval grass after exiting his damaged car on pit road. The heat shields badly damaged during his multiple accidents caused Busch to overheat in the cockpit. Emergency vehicles were on hand quickly to provide aid. Ice to cool off and water to hydrate allowed Busch to walk to the ambulance for the trip to the infield care center.
|Position||DRIVER||Car||POINTS||Cut Line Diff|
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||78||3106||62|
|12||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17||3034||-10|
With Truex advancing, Larson, and Harvick have the possibility of locking down a spot in the Round of 8 based on points alone. Elliott, Hamlin, and Busch will have to avoid trouble in next weeks race. The bottom six will battle it out over the next two races to either post a win or gain as many points as possible.
Next Sunday the biggest potential for disaster lurks as the Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway for the Alabama 500. Stenhouse has been dominate at the track and will need to perform up to expectations in order to advance out of round 2.
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