Finding ways to not beat yourself the difference in a championship run this season

We see it all the time in stick-and-ball sports and that’s finding ways to capitalize on others misfortunes and in the meanwhile not shooting yourself in the foot. In professional sports, everyone is good. In order to take being good to great, well that gap is dwindling too.

The biggest difference in either direction?

Being sure you’re doing what you need to do to survive and maximizing in areas to where you’re good in.

That’s especially true in NASCAR for this season. In a year of parity (19 different winners in 31 races) and 4 of the first 5 postseason races being won by non-championship eligible drivers, the best way to advance from one round to the next is maximize stage points and limit mistakes.

Just look at who’s alive still and who’s not and why each are in the position that they’re in right now.

Chase Briscoe went 14 straight races without a top 10 finish and that includes all 3 races in the 1st round. He’s still alive. Austin Cindric had 1 top 10 finish in his last 8 races before Talladega. In the opening round, he had 1 finish better than 15th and that was 12th. 7 of Daniel Suarez’ last 10 finishes have been 12th or worse including 6 of those 7 being 18th or worse at that. They’re all 3 in great positions to move onto the Round of 8.

Briscoe and Cindric are tied for that 8th and final spot while Suarez is 12 points to the good.

It just goes to show you that you have to just get by and if you’re not too aggressive, you likely will move on.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 02: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Kansas, Bristol and Texas saw drivers too aggressive on their tire air pressures. It cost them. We’ve seen cars catching fire for no reason. We’ve seen a lot of mechanical failures. The ones that have kept it more in the box than pushing a limit are the ones still fighting for a championship.

“Yeah, I mean, I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” Chase Elliott said. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race.

“I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

Its been that type of season. Elliott rode that wave this summer in scoring 5 straight top 2 results. 5 of his next 7 would see him finish 11th or worse. He’s now had 2 top 2’s in the last 3 weeks though. Can that continue?

He’s not getting his hopes up.

Joey Logano has seen it too. It ebbs and flows these days to where it was more ebbing than flowing in years prior. Logano had 4 top 3’s including a pair of wins in an 8 race span this spring. He had 1 top 10 in his next 6 including 4 straight finishes outside the top 20 entering the final weekend of July. Then he rattled off 4 straight top 6’s. Then he had 3 finishes in a 4 week span of 12th or worse. 2 of his 5 playoff finishes have been in the top 4. The other 3 have been 17th or worse including a pair of 27th place finishes in the last 3 weeks.

William Byron lived it. He had 4 top 5’s in a 6 race span earlier this season then just 1 top 10 in the next 18 races. That was to last race of the regular season. What’s he done in the playoffs?

4 top 8’s in 5 tries. The reason he’s below the cutline? An unforced error by spinning Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. That cost him 25 points. Instead of being 11 points down, he could be 14 points to the good at the very minimum. If he could survive the ROVAL, he’d go to the Round of 8 to where he won the last trip to 2 of the 3 tracks in that round.

See where these errors can cost you?

Kyle Busch blew 2 engines in 3 first round playoff races. Kevin Harvick’s car caught on fire in Darlington, he crashes in Kansas and had a bad final spot in Bristol. Both former champions were eliminated in the opening round. Tyler Reddick finished 3rd in the Southern 500 but cut a tire and wrecked in Kansas and was collected in a crash at Bristol. His teammate Austin Dillon was 17th, 14th and 31st in the 3 first round races. Both he and Reddick joined Busch and Harvick on the sidelines.

How about this round?

Alex Bowman missed Talladega, Christopher Bell despite a top 5 in all three first round races, cut a tire and crashed twice in Texas and had a ho-hum day in Talladega. Byron was 12th in Talladega and has that points penalty.

The ones not making air pressure mistakes or having points penalties are going to be the ones at Phoenix fighting for a title.

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