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The Art of Racing - Sorting out the playoffs

The second Round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship was held on the Monster Mile, dubbed the “track too tough to tame”. The only taming that was done was by Stewart-Haas Racing, as Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch seemed ready to deliver a 1-2-3-4 finish. Harvick led a race-high 286 laps as the Stewart-Hass quartet had over four seconds on the rest of the field. For 393 laps of the 400-lap race, drivers were content to stay out of trouble and take what points they could get from the two stages.

A series of errors proved to be the undoing for the Stewart-Haas Racing teams. First, a flying lug nut broke a valve stem on Harvick’s car during his final green-flag pit stop. Bowyer then had his bad luck as he had to make an unscheduled pit stop for what seemed to be a broken track bar mount. As he went back on the track to try to get to the finish, Bowyer’s tire blew, sending him into the outside wall.

Almirola and Kurt Busch decided to pit under the caution, putting them back in traffic. Almirola lost control on the restart, creating a wreck that also ended the day for Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

A red flag halted the race for five minutes and finished in overtime. A race that was calmly playing into SHR’s hands crumbled to pieces.

Chase Elliott stayed out on the track after Bowyer’s wreck and survived two final restarts to win his second race. Elliott’s win automatically advances him into the third round, easing his mind about what could happen in the race.

Many fans have asked me about Stage racing and points. Many of them said they don’t like stage racing, mostly because they don’t understand it. What NASCAR did was to create three races in one. The points awarded for each stage are extremely important as was evident at the end of the first round of the Championship.

Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Jimmie Johnson were tied in points, but only two of them could advance to the second round. Johnson lost out in the tie-breaking procedure, something that could have been avoided with just one more point garnered in a stage or race finish. Drivers use pit strategy or make aggressive moves at the end of each stage in order to gain as many stage points as possible.

Going into Talladega, Harvick and Kyle Busch have such a points lead, they are assured of coming out of the race in good shape.

Everyone else (except Elliott) are concerned about the unknown results of restrictor plate racing. Almirola, Bowyer, Larson and Bowman are the bottom four of the 12 drivers remaining in round two.