Chase Elliott was well on his way to scoring a key top 10 finish in last Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs opener at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His No. 9 Chevrolet was extremely quick and could have been among the few playoff drivers to avoid a casualty. Instead, he was caught up in a crash with Jamie McMurray on Lap 211 which ended his day with a 36th place finish. He could have been in a great spot in the standings heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Instead, he’s 14th out of the 16 playoff drivers, nine points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the 12th and final transfer spot onto the next round.
Elliott, said that while there’s still two races remaining in the opening round of the playoffs, this year’s is much different than in years past. He says that it’s going to be well earned for the 12 drivers who move onto the second round.
“Typically, your first round is not too bad because those guys that might have not had a very good day going and had a weather delay get them a victory, or whatever, and get them in, they were the first ones out, typically,” said Elliott. “I think this round is going to be tough. I expect Saturday night to be hard fought.”
Elliott is right. There hasn’t be the randomness this season. There hasn’t been what he considers fluke winners. I mean Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. won 17 of the 26 races in the first round. Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer won two. That leaves seven races left to be won.
Elliott, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon.
“The big thing I’ve noticed this year about the playoffs is that it didn’t seem like we had as many random winners throughout the season,” Elliott continued. “It seemed like the people who won, I thought were guys who have run pretty well throughout the year for the most part. So, your field of 16, to me, is probably as strong as it’s ever been since I’ve been doing this.”
We had six wildcard spots open and taking those positions were all big named drivers from big named team. Seven-time champion in Jimmie Johnson was one. Denny Hamlin, a 31 race winner and Joe Gibbs Racing driver was another. Kyle Larson, a five time winner and driver who has had six runner-up finishes in 2018 took a spot. Alex Bowman, a Hendrick driver, Aric Almirola, a Stewart-Haas driver and Ryan Blaney, a Penske driver rounded out the field.
Find me the weak link?
Elliott is referring to an Almirola (Daytona 2014), AJ Allmendinger (Watkins Glen 2014) Chris Buescher (Pocono 2016), Ryan Newman (Phoenix 2017), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Talladega, Daytona 2017) and drivers like that stealing wins but quickly being left out of the playoffs after the first round. This year, there aren’t those drivers.
That in turn means every finishing position matters.