If the first race in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Playoffs had to be summarized in one emoji, it would: ?
For a race that started smoothly and didn’t see hard wrecks, it ended with a shocker. Stage 1 was relatively tame with the first caution flag flying on Lap 34 for a small tangle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Michael McDowell, and Ty Dillon. A little later on Lap 63, David Ragan was a single car spun. And on Lap 93, AJ Allmendinger break-checked the #10 car of Danica Patrick into the corner. Patrick ran in the back of Allmendinger and caused him to spin. Allmendinger was out of the race and Brad Keselowski went on to win the stage.
As of Stage 2, the race got more aggressive and intense. On Lap 300, Kyle Larson came off Turn 2 with too much speed and spun his #42 Chevrolet down the backstretch. Larson’s car came to a stop when it hit the inside wall, which crunched the front and the rear corner of the #42. For the second week in a row, Kyle Larson was out of the race early. Seventeen laps later, Erik Jones spun in the middle of Turn 4. Luckily, no other driver was taken out in the process. On Lap 361, David Ragan blatantly turned Landon Cassill and the two cars spun down the back straightaway. Then-leaders Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski narrowly missed the collision.
By Stage 3, driver anger was at an all-time high and patience were at an all-time low. Playoff contender Chase Elliott, in the #24 Chevrolet, was in the lead and was in a heated battle with the #2 of Brad Keselowski as they jockeyed for position. When Elliott came upon lapped-traffic, every driver was defending their position and points and had no intention of moving over, despite the fact that Elliott was faster. Elliott dove to the bottom of the track to make a move on Danica Patrick, however, Keselowski was on the inside of Elliott and knocked in the #24’s quarter-panel, thus creating a bad tire rub. The tire held as Elliott moved his trackbar to adjust the car and he continued to make laps and maintain the lead.
With 43 laps to go in the race, Carl Long in the #66 car spun and backed into the outside wall. This allowed Elliott to pit and fix the tire rub without losing a lap. Elliott came off pit road as the race leader and remained that way until 20 to go when Keselowski passed him for the 1st position.
With 9 laps to go, Kyle Busch tried to make a move on the 3rd place of Joey Logano. Busch shoved the front of his car between the inside curb and Logano. This pushed in Logano’s quarter-panel and created a tire-rub worse than the one Elliott had. Logano’s left-rear eventually blew and caused the 10th caution of the race as he spun to the top of the track.
The race restarted with 5 laps to go, with Keselowski in the 1st position and Chase Elliott in 2nd. Elliott used a veteran move on the #2 car wherein Elliott moved him to the top of the track and quickly drove off the corner, thus hanging Keselowski out to dry. This left Eliott and the #11 Toyota Camry of Denny Hamlin battling for 1st place with only 2 to go. Hamlin bumped the back of the #24 and then stayed on the back bumper. This jacked the #24’s tires up and prevented him from properly making the turn. Hamlin dumped the #24 and sent him hard into the wall. Chase Elliott went on to finish 27th despite leading 123 laps. The race restarted in overtime and Kyle Busch ended up dumping Hamlin with 1 to go. Busch went on to win the First Data 500 and secure his spot in the Final Four for a chance at the championship.
As the rest of the field was coming to the finish line, Hamlin triggered another multi-car wreck that turned the front stretch into a parking lot. Those collected include Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick, and more.
After the race, Chase Elliott decided to let Denny Hamlin know he wasn’t pleased. Elliott first drove beside the #11 on the cool-down lap and pushed the Toyota into the wall twice. Both drivers got out of their cars and exchanged heated words. Respectably, it didn’t lead to any punches.
It certainly was an exciting finish to the race. You won’t want to miss what happens between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin next week at Texas Motor Speedway. Get your tickets HERE!