Sports & Culture Media

Crunch Time

Here we are, exactly where we thought we would be. One race remaining and only one spot left to be clinched for the Playoffs. Two weeks ago, Denny Hamlin clinched a spot by getting wrecked on the last lap of the Indy Roval Race. To be more factual, he clinched because the winner of the race was A.J. Allmendinger, who is not running full time for the Cup Series. This week, Kevin Harvick clinched his spot in the playoffs at Michigan, with Ryan Blaney winning the race. As we discussed a few weeks back, for these guys that are winless, hoping to clinch on points, the goal every race is to either win or to see someone win that has already won this year. A new winner would have pushed the cut line down a spot, putting more of a squeeze on the bottom of the Playoff list.

The last race of the Regular Season is Daytona, and it is the perfect setting for a wild card race. What track screams madness more than Daytona and Talladega? Just like the Daytona 500, though, don’t expect someone to win from the front row. A year ago, it was William Byron winning to get into the Playoffs, but he had help from teammate Chase Elliott on the final lap. I think you will see a similar situation this weekend. I look at a team like Stewart-Haas Racing to help get another driver in, like Chase Briscoe. With both Harvick and Almirola locked into the playoffs, there is a high chance that the two of them will help get either Briscoe or Cole Custer into the playoffs. No, I do not expect either of the Richard Childress drivers to make it. 

It is pretty rare to steal a win at a restrictor-plate race without help. Sometimes it’s a teammate, and sometimes it’s a rival. There is a saying with these types of races when the laps are winding down, make sure you are moving in the right direction. That means don’t find yourself being shuffled to the back in the last five laps. That is why I feel as if having your teammates around you in the closing laps is so pivotal. Of course, you will see the ordinary restrictor-plate guys up front at some point, like Hamlin and Kyle Larson, but I don’t expect a repeat winner. 

This will be a caution-filled race, with drivers going above and beyond their comfort zones to get a win. That is exactly what NASCAR wanted when they made Daytona the final regular-season race. I applaud them for shaking things up, but I also recognize the danger to this type of racing. It will be a good show; make sure you have plenty of popcorn.

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Chris Ausburn