The final race in round one of the 2017 Playoffs at Dover International Speedway determines the 12 drivers who advance to the second round. Four drivers will drop out of contention for the Series Championship after the Apache Warrior 400 Presented by Lucas Oil. So drivers are fighting for every position trying to earn enough points to advance.
Martin Truex Jr.(78) won the pole with Kyle Busch(18) sharing the front row. Truex immediately drove to the lead and Busch faded with an ill-handling race car. Both drivers are already assured to advance based on victories in the first two playoff races. Truex traded the lead with Kyle Larson(42) for most of Stage One. Until pit stops started on lap 81. Jeffery Earnhardt(33) lost control of his car entering the pits on lap 86. Earnhardt backed into the sand barrels that protect the end of the wall separating the track and pit road. Bringing out the caution in the middle of pit stops.
NASCAR red-flagged the race on lap 88 to repair the barrels. The caution flag left five cars on the lead lap with the rest of the field one or more laps down. Playoff contenders Brad Keselowski(2), Kyle Busch, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17), three of those cars with an advantage on the field. As the leaders pitted, 14 cars took the wave around to put 19 cars on the lead lap for the restart.
Keselowski won the race off pit road edging Kyle Busch. He held the lead to lap 120, the end of stage one. Busch finished second, Truex third, and Stenhouse held onto fourth. Earning the driver of the number 17 Ford seven stage points. Danica Patrick(10) took fifth, Larson sixth, Chase Elliott(24) seventh, and Kevin Harvick(4) eighth. David Ragan(38) and Denny Hamlin(11) rounded out the top ten in Stage One. Stenhouse, earning the seven bonus points, helped improve his chances of advancing.
During pitstops at the end of the stage, Matt Kenseth(20) was flagged for going too fast on pit road. The penalty, returning to the pits for a drive-through, sent Kenseth to the rear of the field. Kyle Busch and Truex won the race off pit road returning the pair to the head of the field like the original start of the race. Only this time Busch surged to the lead with Larson edging Truex for second. Larson moved past Busch to take the lead 20 laps into the second stage.
Reed Sorenson(55) blew up bringing out the caution on lap 167. With 73 laps to go in Stage Two drivers pitted for fresh tires and enough fuel to run to the end of the Stage. Truex took the lead exiting the pits in first and Larson in second. But, Larson beat Truex into turn one when the green flag flew and reclaimed the lead.
Larson held on for the Stage Two win with Truex second, Elliott third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Jimmie Johnson(48) fifth.
The Final Stage
Larson was first off pit road after the stage ending pit stops with Elliott second. Truex and Kyle Busch exiting in third and fourth respectively. While circling the track under caution Larson had to recycle the onboard computer. He had trouble restarting the car and dropped to fifth on the grid for the restart. Truex moved to the front row but Elliott was able to take the lead on the restart.
The playoff bubble at the start of the final stage found Stenhouse in 12th thanks to the points he earned in Stage One. Ryan Newman(31) sat 13th, three points out. Ty Dillon(3) held 14th, five points back. Kurt Busch(41) 18 points out and Kasey Kahne(5) 24 points back both needing a miracle win to advance.
On Lap 321 leaders began making pit stops for the race to the finish. Newman was one of the first to stop for fresh tires hoping to advance on Stenhouse. Elliott pitted on lap 325, Kyle Busch on lap 331. Dillon stayed out to lap 339 and Stenhouse lap 340 both hoping for a caution to gain track position. As the field cycled through pit stops, with 58 laps to go Stenhouse’s advantage over Newman shrank to one point. The top three Elliott, Busch, and Truex.
Race to the Finish
With 10 laps to go Busch had closed to within a half second of Elliott’s lead. With two to go Busch was on Elliott’s bumper. As they took the white flag Busch moved ahead of Elliott and held on until the checkered flag. Denying Elliott, once again, his first Cup Series win. Johnson finished third, Truex fourth and Larson ended up in fifth. Stenhouse held on to finish two points ahead of Newman, clinching the final playoff spot.
Playoff Drivers Eliminated at the End of Round One
The seven points Stenhouse earned in Stage One were the difference in advancing him to round two. Newman missed advancing to round two by just two points. Dillon finished another two points back from Newman. Kahne and Kurt Busch never contended and were also eliminated.
Points now reset for the first race of round two at Charlotte next week. The Lasco Press will be live at the track to bring you all the action kicking off the next round of eliminations.
|Martin Truex Jr.
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Four Ford drivers still remain in contention heading to round two. Keselowski, Harvick, Stenhouse, and Blaney.
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