Just one week removed from the drama of the ROVAL it all starts over again. Round 2 of the NASCAR Playoffs or The Round of 12 begins at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson(48), Denny Hamlin(11), Erik Jones(20), and Austin Dillon(3) are no longer racing for a championship. They will be on the track racing for a victory to provide some solace for the disappointment of not advancing as one of the top 12 after Charlotte.
Johnson especially has something to prove after coming so close to victory before wrecking himself and Martin Truex Jr.(78) just yards from the finish. Truex Jr. commented on his relationship with Johnson after losing out on the win and Johnson eliminating himself from playoff contention.
The next 2 weeks at Talladega and Kansas will eliminate 4 more drivers from Playoff contention. Chase Elliott(9), Kyle Larson(42), Aric Almirola(10), and Alex Bowman(88) all start the round sitting below the cut line. Who will rise and who will fall? Racing at the Monster Mile will set things up for the potential carnage of Talladega.
Rain washed out qualifying so the field lines up based on owner points. Kyle Busch(18) and Kevin Harvick sit on the front row. Johnson’s troubles continued, even before the start of the race. He had to return to the garage area for an issue with the front suspension on the 48 car. A cracked ball joint cost Johnson his shot at victory and relegated him to a 36th place finish. A total of 17 laps down to the leaders.
From the pole, Kyle Busch jumped to the early lead. On lap 16, Harvick returned to the top spot. The position he held at the conclusion of the Dover race in May when he swept both stages and took the race win. Harvick led 98 of the 120 laps that made up Stage 1 in the Gander Outdoors 400.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
It’s looking more like the spring race as Harvick leads 107 of the 120 laps in Stage 2. He sweeps both Stages, just as he did earlier this year at Dover. Can he complete the sweep with 160 laps to go in the final segment of the race?
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
Harvick continued his dominance through lap 320 of 400 when he made a green flag pit stop. He returned to the pits one lap later with a flat right rear tire. During the pit stop, his crew damaged the valve stem allowing all the air to leak out. Kyle Busch took over the lead briefly until he pitted. Too fast on pit road and Busch had to return to the pits for a drive-through penalty. Both lost a lap.
With the leaders having pit trouble Aric Almirola(10) moved to the front. The yellow came out for the first time other than the end of a Stage when Ross Chastain(15) lost an axle. It hit the door of Joey Logano opening a hole in the sheet metal and then came to rest on the lower portion of the track.
During pit stops, Truex Jr. got caught for speeding and was forced to the rear of the field for the restart. The “Big 3” all had issues on pit road. The yellow allowed Harvick and Kyle Busch to return to the lead lap. Logano’s crew took the extra time to repair the damage to his car.
Almirola lost the lead in the pits as Brad Keselowski(2) took just 2 tires and exited in the top spot. It took just 1 lap for Almirola to pass Keselowski. He clearly had the dominant car late in the race.
After leading late at Daytona, coming close at New Hampshire, and several other strong runs Almirola had yet to win in 2018. Would today be the day?
Clint Bowyer hit the wall with 8 laps to go bringing out a late caution. All the leaders pitted except Elliott, Keselowski, and Truex Jr. who decided to take their chances on tires that had 55 laps on them. Denny Hamlin(11) and Alex Bowman(88) took 2 tires and came out of the pits ahead of Almirola who took 4 new Goodyears. As a result, the fastest guy and the guy with the newest tires was restarting 6th.
Keselowski spun his tires on the restart and held up the bottom line. In the middle of Turns 1 and 2, Almirola on the high side made it 3 wide for 3rd. He tapped the wall coming out of Turn 2. As Almirola bounced off the wall he banged fenders with Keselowski triggering a wreck at the end of the backstretch. The track was blocked with safety equipment and NASCAR was forced to display the red flag while they cleaned up the mess.
Bowman and Truex Jr. also suffered damage in the melee. The restart forced the event into overtime. Elliott and Hamlin led the pack of cars into the green-white-checkered finish. Elliott pulled away clear of the rest of the field and won his 2nd race of the year. I was also the 2nd win of his career and advanced Elliott into the next round of the playoffs.
|4||Martin Truex Jr.||3069||-32||+36|
*Ford Fusion Drivers
Almirola goes from likely winner to 10 points below the cut line. Bowyer ran strong all day and finds himself in the same position. Bowman will certainly need a win in the next 2 races if he wants to move on to Round 3.
Results of the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway
|9||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||404||2.049|
|15||78||Martin Truex Jr.||404||16.979|
|16||21||Paul Menard||403||1 lap|
|17||31||Ryan Newman||403||1 lap|
|18||1||Jamie McMurray||402||2 laps|
|19||24||William Byron||402||2 laps|
|20||6||Matt Kenseth||402||2 laps|
|21||95||Regan Smith||401||3 laps|
|22||47||A.J. Allmendinger||400||4 laps|
|23||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||399||5 laps|
|24||38||David Ragan||399||5 laps|
|25||37||Chris Buescher||399||5 laps|
|26||34||Michael McDowell||399||5 laps|
|27||32||Matt DiBenedetto||397||7 laps|
|28||88||Alex Bowman||396||8 laps|
|29||13||Ty Dillon||396||8 laps|
|30||72||Corey Lajoie||394||10 laps|
|31||96||Jeffrey Earnhardt||394||10 laps|
|32||23||J.J. Yeley||392||12 laps|
|33||0||Landon Cassill||390||14 laps|
|34||51||B.J. McLeod||389||15 laps|
|35||14||Clint Bowyer||388||16 laps|
|36||48||Jimmie Johnson||387||17 laps|
|37||15||Ross Chastain||314||90 laps|
|38||52||Harrison Rhodes||308||96 laps|
|39||66||Timmy Hill||35||369 Laps|