How would I describe these qualifiers in the cup?
Well, Kevin Harvick came up with a slogan to explain why he wasn’t competing for the championship. Put it on a shirt. For $20, you can have one.
But there are other ways to look at what happened and what could happen in the second round in Texas, Talladega and Charlotte Roval.
Three races in, these qualifiers saw fire and rain (both in Darlington) and so much more.
All four match drivers with links to Richard Childress’s past, present or future race have been eliminated. Two former champions are gone. The newcomer is in a playoff with a top ten at the end five months (!!) Advance to the second round. The Series Leader at the end of the first round is now restricted to the final transfer point entering the second round after the points are reset.
“In terms of the cap, no one is safe,” said former champ Chase Elliott, who enters this round as the points leader.
Oh yeah, he won each of the first three races by a driver not in the qualifiers: Eric Jones (Darlington), Bubba Wallace (Kansas) and Chris Bucher (Bristol).
This has never happened before.
“Imagine if the playoffs started in two weeks,” said Joey Logano. “Holy cow. What a crazy year, which is what we expected. We expected this year to be very unexpected and no one would really be able to spot this car, and it really looks like there are still a lot of questions.”
Yes there is.
Will the chaos continue? Will drivers who don’t play a playoff still win? Who is the next ex-champion to be eliminated? Who is the next surprise to come forward? How will the next generation car further affect these qualifiers?
“This car reset everything,” said Ross Chastain. “Just like you can’t bring different heads here. You can’t bring a new flight pack.
“You try to maximize everything, but we all have the same parts. You can’t build a new front spindle and save it for qualifying. You can’t bring in different brake pads that they found in testing to be better and bring them now. There’s nothing else to bring. We all ask for the same stuff.
“This was the greatest replay the sport has ever seen.”
With Talladega in the next round – where anyone can win – and Charlotte Roval as a cut-off race – imagine if it rained there – the second round could be more choppy than the first. It makes Sunday’s race in Texas critical for the teams due to the uncertainty in the next two races.
Lugano noticed how different this time was from when NASCAR held the All-Star Race there in May.
“The car has evolved and changed,” he said. “It will be different than we were last time. The weather will be different. The resin and how you apply it — those kinds of things — will be different. IndyCar has raced there since we were there, so there is a lot of change that can happen, but this is the next round. It will be very difficult.
“When you consider that Texas is probably the most natural race and then you have the Roval and Talladega on top of that, it’s definitely going to be a unique run for sure, as ever.”
While there are still questions about the safety aspects of the next-generation car and it has been criticized for how it races on short tracks, the new car did better on 1.5-mile tracks. Sunday’s race in Texas returns to the focus on such tracks.
Three of the next five races will be on 1.5-mile tracks (Texas in the second round, Las Vegas and Homestead in the third). It can have an effect on who comes forward.
Another key is to reset the points.
Christopher Bell had a 4.0 average finish in the opening round and was the points lead when he waved the checkered flag in Bristol last weekend.
The points of the remaining 12 drivers were changed to 3000 and then added their points. While Bale won a stage in Bristol to earn a break point, he didn’t score as many break points as the others. The upshot is that he will start this round with a draw with Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney in the last transfer spot.
The four drivers outside the transfer area entering this round are Chase Briscoe (-4 points off the line), Alex Bowman (-6), Daniel Suarez (-6) and Austin Cendrick (-7).
Briscoe has advanced despite taking the top 10 in the last 21 races, dating back to early April. He finished 27 (Darlington), 13 (Kansas) and 14 (Bristol) in the opening round. That was good enough to put 14 points ahead of Tyler Riddick, the highest-point driver who was eliminated in the first round.
“Men will continue to eliminate themselves,” Briscoe said. “We just have to limit our mistakes. If we do that, we know we have to have more speed, but if we can eliminate our mistakes, it gives us a chance to go to the next round.”
Anything is possible in these unexpected qualifiers.