Harvick Gets Top 5, But Not Enough
Kevin Harvick scored his 9th top 5 finish in his last 11 New Hampshire starts. However, it wasn’t enough. With Christopher Bell winning and Truex sweeping the 2 stages and finishing 1 spot ahead of Harvick, he also leads Harvick by 68 points for the final playoff spot.
“We put two tires on there, which we all thought was the right thing to do, and it just would not get going,” Harvick said. “We were sliding up the race track, and it took seven or eight laps to get the car underneath you and then about 20 laps to get the pace back. Then at the end, everybody was just out of tires. … We passed a lot of the cars that were worse than us. It just depended on what your handling issues were.”
Harvick is in a must win while also riding a 63 race drought himself. He’s not shown the pace end that skid as he’s led 13 laps all season and none since mid May.
Elliott, Truex Jr. Frustrated
Chase Elliott says he never should have given up the race lead late. He found the front and was well on his way to cruising to his 1st Loudon victory. However, Christopher Bell caught up and passed Elliott with 42 laps remaining and bested Elliott to become the 14th different winner of the 2022 season.
Elliott feels like he could have done a better job inside of the race car. Bell beat him mono y mono but Elliott feels like he gave it up. Still, it was his 4th straight top 2 finish on the year. Although, he says that if he does a better job on July 3 in Road America and on Sunday, he easily could have 4 straight trips to victory lane instead.
“I just need to do a better job again,” Elliott said. “The same conversation as Road America, unfortunately. I feel like it was a poor run of execution on my end throughout that last run. I feel like it took me a while to get past Joey (Logano) and the No. 45 (Kurt Busch), and I had to run a little harder than I wanted to. I got in front of those guys, just made a couple of mistakes and couldn’t get much breathing room. … Obviously for us, we were in a position where guys at this level really should close out a race if you have the lead like that, so just poor effort on my part. When you’re in position like we’ve been in, you need to finish them off.”
In saying that, Elliott may not have ever been in that situation if Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t marred mid pack after leading most of the 1st two stages (160 of 1st 185 laps). A day after scoring the pole and admitting that track position will be everything, he hit pit lane for a 2 tire stop and it cost his No. 19 Toyota speed by losing his position now. Without the track position, his race winning aspirations were over.
“It’s just Loudon,” Truex said. “It’s the way it has been my whole career. It doesn’t matter how good we are, we can’t win.”
Truex did rebound to finish 4th but it wasn’t enough. On a day that he led 172 of 301 laps and swept both stages, Truex felt he left a win on the table and with his teammate winning, the 2017 series champion sits squarely on the playoff bubble with 7 races remaining.
“Just put on two tires and got in a bad spot on the restart,” said Truex. “I got put three-wide, and the 22 (Joey Logano) didn’t get going and I was on the inside behind him. I tried to shove him to get him going and get us going and (Kevin) Harvick made it three-wide and put us in a bad spot. And my car was terrible on two tires and couldn’t go anywhere.
“Just should have put four tires on I guess. We had the car to do it. We just screwed it up. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but congrats to the 20 (Christopher Bell). Obviously, they were smarter than we were at the end.”
2 of those final 7 races are on road courses which have been Toyota’s worst tracks this year. The final race is at Daytona, a place he swept both stages in February but only has 3 top 5’s in 34 races run including 0 wins.
With being on the bubble, he feels like he has to end his 27 race skid.
Wallace Shows Speed
Bubba Wallace’s pit crew has single handily hampered his finishes on the season. However, when they’re not a storyline, he’s showing flashes of improvement. Wallace had an uneventful day in a third place result in his No. 23 Toyota. Can they now sustain this?
Wallace has to win to make the playoffs and while Daytona is the spot he has circled, he’d love to have a win locked up before that mark.
“I’m just proud of the team, proud of myself, proud of everybody at the shop. … It didn’t handle that great but it had speed, so we knew that,” Wallace said. “Just the mental preparation, had to set yourself up for a long day, and we did. We had no idea what we were running there at the end. I knew it was inside the top five. But just tire management there at the end, and we were able to capitalize. Just proud of everybody. Happy.
“It’s been hell for me the last month, so good to come out with a top five. This sport humbles you, so there’s really no surprises. You’ve got to keep the task at hand and be mindful of your surroundings and just do your job. As long as you do that, you never know if you’re going to end up with a top three or 20th or whatever it may be. You just stick true to your path.”
Bowman/Byron’s Rough Patch Continues
At one point in the season, one could make a chase that Alex Bowman and William Byron would be leading the Hendrick Motorsports charge heading into the postseason. Yes, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson had won each of the last 2 season titles and yes Larson won in Fontana (2nd race of the year) but through the first 8 races run in 2022, Larson had 3 top 10’s (all top 5s) and Elliott 5 top 10’s with just 1 top 5. Byron and Bowman meanwhile, had combined to score 1 less win (3) than Larson and Elliott had top 5’s (4) at that point.
The tide has shifted.
Over the last 12 races, Elliott has 3 wins, 2 runner-ups, 6 top 5’s and 9 top 10’s. Larson has 0 wins, 1 runner-up, 5 top 5’s and 7 top 10’s.
Bowman has 1 top 5 and 4 top 10’s in this same span. Byron has 0 top 5’s and 1 top 10 himself. Elliott has 3x as many wins now (3) as Bowman and Bryon have top 5’s (1).
Bowman has led just 4 laps outside of Las Vegas all season. He has no finish better than 12th in his last 6 with 3 of his last 4 results being 32nd or worse.
Byron has just 2 top 15’s over his last 8 starts on the year too.
Do Points Even Matter Anymore?
Are we getting to the point to where “points” don’t matter during the regular season of the NASCAR Cup Series. Yes, points matter in the 10 race postseason to where the slimmest of margins advance drivers or not. But in a format that requires winning, one could say a trip to victory lane far outweighs anything else during the final 10 weeks of the year.
A win advances you onto the next round. Under the format, the series champion won the season finale every year since 2014.
It matters now in the regular season too. Most years, the 5 playoff points for a win and the guaranteed spot comes with it. Now, a win doesn’t provide all that much comfort anymore.
That’s because as we head to the Pocono Raceway next Sunday for the 21st event of this new Next Gen race car, we’ve already seen 14 different drivers visit victory lane this year. 2nd in points hasn’t won a race yet. Neither has 6th. They hold the final 2 wildcard spots in a year that now seems like we’re going to eclipse the 16 winner mark.
Daytona is the regular season finale. Indianapolis is next Sunday. Watkins Glen is the 2nd to last race of the regular season. Road courses have produced a first time winner in all 3 run this year. Both superspeedway’s have also produced a 1st time winner.
I don’t see that trend coming to a full halt now. These 3 tracks make up the final 7 weeks of the regular season. I can see at least 1 or dare I say, 2, new winners coming on them?
That pushes us to 15th or even maybe 16 different winners. What if 1 of them aren’t Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.?
Both are past season champions. Harvick has 15 playoff appearances, tied for most all time. Truex has 9 (tied for 10th). Harvick has made the playoffs 12 straight years. Truex 7.
In terms of Championship 4’s, each have 5 in 8 years which is tied with Kyle Busch for most ever in this span. Could we really see them miss the playoffs completely this year?
That’s where this is heading.
Harvick hasn’t won a race since Sept. 2020 at Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway (63 races). Truex hasn’t won since Richmond in Sept. 2021 (28 races). Can they garner enough speed to find victory lane over the next 6 week stretch to the postseason?
I mean you have Daytona as the regular season finale plus 2 more road course races left. All 3 road course events run this season were won by a 1st time Cup Series winner. That’s a potential to see 4 more new winners this season which definitely makes these winless drivers and even some of the drivers who have won nervous.