The first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff was completed with last Sunday’s Delaware 400 and the importance of stage points and playoff points became much clearer.
Two stages are run in each race with up to 10 points being available to the top 10 drivers. A maximum of 40 points are available at the finish of each race, making 60 points available to a team. One playoff point is awarded to the winner of each stage and 5 playoff points are awarded to the winner of each race.
At the conclusion of the round of 16, four teams are eliminated. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Matt Dillon and Ryan Newman were the four drivers eliminated. With a total of 60 stage points available during the first three races of the playoffs, it was not surprising Dillon, Kahne and Newman had accumulated zero stage points, and Kurt Busch only 3 points during the first three races of the playoffs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the fourth driver without a stage point after the first two playoff races, and was close to being eliminated from the playoffs.
During the first stage of the Delaware 400, the No. 17 team decided to gamble in order to gain some stage points. While most teams made green-flag pit stops for a fresh set of tires and fuel, Stenhouse stayed out hoping for a caution flag in order to gain track position. His prayers were answered when Jeffrey Earnhardt backed into the barrels at the entrance to pit road. This was the only caution flag caused by a crash during the whole race. Stenhouse was able to finish fourth in Stage 1 and pick up a very valuable 7 stage points.
The rest of the race saw Stenhouse and Newman racing for the 12th and final position going into the Round of 12. Stenhouse finished 2 points ahead of Newman, showing the value of the 7 stage points he picked up.
The usual contingent of drivers showed the way at Delaware with Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson leading the most laps. Elliott all but won the race, having a 4-second lead over Kyle Busch with 40-laps to go. Busch slowly overtook Elliott, grabbing the lead approaching the white flag. Busch held on to secure his second straight victory during the playoffs.
All teams had their points reset to 3,000 with their playoff points added. Truex’s 59 playoff points gives him a huge advantage over most of the field. Teams return to Charlotte for the start of the Round of 12, with Talladega and Kansas making up the other two races.