It was a home date for most of the teams as the next round of the Chase opened in Charlotte, North Carolina. Martin Truex Jr.’s outfit hails out of Colorado, so for them, every date finds them on the road. It is a road that could take them all the way to the championship.
Once again, we were left wondering if one of the leaders would suffer a big points hit due to some unwelcome circumstance. Then there were the four coming in behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the eighth-ranked driver. Would Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray start to move up, or would bad tidings await one or more of them?
As they took off, we were reminded of three things. First, when it comes to an announcing crew that is informative and entertaining enough to keep us tuned in, we are still looking and waiting. Maybe next year. Second, when it comes to jam-packed grandstands, maybe there was something else taking place in Charlotte that was more attractive for folks to attend. A sea of empty seats was evident beyond the racing surface. Third, segment stage points count, and you need them to advance. Truex did not get any the opening stage, but that was a rarity. Brad Keselowski also came up short, but he had wiggle room. However, Stenhouse and Blaney also came up empty, and they did not. Maybe the next segment things would be better.
It looked good for Kyle Busch. He was up or near the front, but part way through the stage his rear danced up into the wall. That left his back end smiling where it should have been closed-mouthed, and that did not help the aerodynamics a lick. They repaired it good enough to return, but he was a lap down and outside the top thirty. Kevin Harvick and Elliott were 1-2 for the second straight stage, while the top 12 in the standings were among the top 13 on the track opening the final run. They all were there except for Rowdy. He was now two laps off the pace.
It was Harvick, then it was Truex, and then Kyle Larson taking over point. As for the younger Busch, he went for a skid that was not productive. Sure, he was still running, still trying to minimize a points disaster, but still having a very bad day. That incident did not help Larson. He dropped back after the pit stops, leaving Truex and Harvick up front with about 50 to go.
Busch was a factor. He hit the wall again with 10 laps remaining. Sucked for him, sucked for Truex, it even sucked for Harvick. He came in second, but after a slight pit miscue, he was sixth when they waved the green.
When they hit the line, Truex was beside Denny Hamlin, with Elliott and Larson right behind, with four remaining. Hamlin did not have a good start, stalling his line, while Truex looked like he was bound for Denver. Then a Busch got in the way of his celebrations once again. This time, it was Kurt Busch getting real loose to go up the hill to clip Larson before continuing on a slide that brought out a green-white-checker finish. If nothing else, if you were still watching you were not going to be tuning out until it was over.
One thing we learned in this race is that whoever led after the first turn on a re-start was going to lead that lap. The four contending were all contending in the Chase; Truex, Hamlin, Elliott, and Harvick. Yet, did anyone doubt it would be Truex claiming this one, his sixth of the season? He is locked into the next round, while Talladega looms next week. Even Harvick, sitting second 21 points to the good, could be buried in 12th if things go bad in what they call the wildcard of the Chase.
Kyle Busch had enough in the bank to still sit 11 points on the positive side of the ledger, despite a 29th place result. Too early to write anyone out just yet. McMurray holds down the eighth place, but even the 12th place Stenhouse is just 10 points behind. It could be worse. While good days were recorded Sunday afternoon by Truex, Larson, Harvick, Hamlin, Elliott, and McMurray, just avoiding a bad day in Alabama next Sunday might prove to be even more important.