The opening race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ second round of the playoffs was held at Dover International Speedway. With a new round beginning, it was no time to waste for any of the drivers remaining in the playoffs. With Talladega next week, we all know the variables that race track possesses to ruin any team’s plan on winning. Sunday’s Dover race was time to make some moves to get set up for a late run in the playoffs.
The spring race earlier this year at Dover was dominated by Kevin Harvick. Sunday seemed like it would be the same result with Harvick leading 251 laps out of the 404 total laps run. Harvick also picked up two stage wins Sunday afternoon. To go off of Harvick’s performance, the Stewart-Haas Racing team had a good afternoon until late.
Harvick still held the lead in the final stage of the race. Green flag stops cycled through and Harvick made his stop for servicing. However, Harvick feared that he had a loose wheel immediately after his stop. He had to come down pit road a second time which cost him the lead and a lap. This allowed his teammate, Aric Almirola to take over as race leader. Almirola has been so close to winning many times this year and it seemed as if this afternoon was going to be his time to advance himself into the next round of the playoffs.
A Late caution comes out after Clint Bowyer made hard contact with the wall which ended his solid run. Now, teams were faced with the challenge of pitting or not pitting. Pitting would cause to teams to lose crucial track position, but some teams desperately needed fresh tires. Almirola came down pit road for four tires, while Chase Elliott and some others stayed out to gain the track position. Alex Bowman came down pit road and only stopped for two tires. This gamble allowed him to restart in the fourth position.
On the restart, Almirola was aggressive with his fresh tires. He raced hard off of turn two and made contact with the outside wall. He came back down the track to correct himself and made contact with Brad Keselowski. Another Caution would come out after the contact also collected Alex Bowman; ending his day.
Chase Elliott retained the lead and led the field back to an overtime restart after the red flag caution. He took a gamble staying out on old tires, but he was able to bring the field back around to the checkered. Elliott won his second race of the season on Sunday afternoon in Dover.
Elliott started his day outside of the cutline in the playoffs. This win allows him to advance into the third round starting at Martinsville Speedway. This win also grants him five extra points that will also be crucial in an effort to advance into the championship race. After this race, the next four out of the playoffs are Bowman, Kyle Larson, Bowyer, and Almirola. Bowman and Bowyer had some bad luck late in the race. Both were wrecked out and taken out of contention after solid runs into the front of the field. Almirola also had his day ruined when that late caution came out that basically took his winning lead away.
However, with Talladega next week, it is possible for any of these four drivers to either have a solid run to get back into contention or to go out and win this race to advance automatically. Talladega is another wild card race where anything can happen at any time. Could one of these four race there way into the next round, or will the dangers of ‘Dega ruin take away their hopes of making it into the next round? Next week’s race is heavily anticipated and it will be exciting to see the outcome.