DOVER, DEL.: The Monster Mile did its part to shake up the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
At the start of the 400-mile race Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Chase Elliott was in the cut zone for the next round of the playoffs.
There were three races to go before the remaining field of 12 drivers would be reduced to eight, meaning there was time to correct things. But no one wants to ever be in the position of being on the outside looking in.
Elliott, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, took advantage of a couple of breaks to post his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory and earn an automatic bid into the playoffs.
While the remaining playoff drivers now turn their attention to next week’s 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway, Elliott will go into a track known for its strange incidents knowing his playoff fate won’t depend on his success there.
“This was an important race,” said Elliott, who lost this race a year ago when he was passed on the final lap by Kyle Busch. “To be able to move on is huge. Last year I lost a hell of an opportunity.”
In a race when the Fords of Stewart-Haas Racing dominated most of the day, Elliott held off Denny Hamlin in overtime to win.
SHR driver Kevin Harvick led 286 of the 400 laps and won the first two stages, but a loose lugnut after a pit stop on lap 321 forced him to immediately go back in and ruined his chances of winning.
“Is that beating yourself or just unlucky on that pit stop?” asked Harvick, who is still in strong position with 52 playoff points. “I don’t know if [our car]was better, but it was good.
“I don’t really care about points. I’d rather win.”
Harvick’s teammate Aric Almirola appeared to have the fastest car late, but after running sixth off a restart, he pushed to move up quickly and connected with Brad Keselowski, triggering a multicar wreck to bring the red flag that forced overtime.
“It’s nice to know that you are going to move on,” said Elliott, “but you can’t get complacent in the fact that you are moving on. You can’t let those bonus points sit out there and not try to get them.
“You get one or two points and that could make the difference in making the final round of four. … At this point, anything is possible. I don’t see why we can’t make a run at winning this thing.”
Superspeedways are always unpredictable and Talladega might be the best example. All weekend, the playoff drivers were talking about winning in Dover to move to the next round without having to worry about Talladega.
“The way these races have been going, something seems to bring out a late caution,” said Joey Logano, who placed third. “Everyone sees a shot at that checkered flag and they know what it means to get them to the next round.
“I can promise you that Talladega will be very similar. It will definitely be a grudge match to the finish.”
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