With 11 races remaining until the playoffs begin, there are still 10 spots open for a driver to race his way into championship contention.
Four drivers have multiple victories. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have dominated the year. And while the last lap has not had a lot of drama every week, there have been defining moments in many of the races that deserve special attention.
Tuesday on NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, and Carolyn Manno took a look at five laps that have defined the season so far.
The list began with the final lap of the opening race of the season.
On lap 200 of the Daytona 500, Austin Dillon got into the back of Aric Almirola and spun him out of the lead. Dillon went on to win and virtually secure his spot in the playoffs.
“The way this race played out, that was the defining lap of this race for Austin Dillon,” Petty said. “It’s the defining lap of this race for Aric Almirola. … The thing for me is, that can be the defining lap of a career for Austin Dillon.”
Not all of the laps were as dramatic.
On lap 260 of the Ticket Guardian 500, with 52 laps remaining at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Busch entered the pits with a margin of seven-tenths of a second over second. Problems with the jack on the left side of the car contributed to a slow pit stop and cost him the lead of the race. Harvick went on to score his third consecutive victory.
“The best teams use (mistakes) for motivation,” Burton said. “And they find a way to make themselves better from that bad situation.”
Busch and the team finished second in that race. They were third one week later at Auto Club Speedway and second again at Martinsville Speedway before putting together their own string of three consecutive wins.
Harvick and Busch’s rivalry would play a part in another defining lap. Harvick was forced to start at the back of the pack in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when his car failed inspection.
On lap 84 after marching his way through the field, Harvick cut a tire and pounded the wall. Busch dominated the remainder of the race and won – earning a record for winning on every racetrack on which he’s competed in the Cup series.
“You don’t know what would have happened, right?” Burton said. “Kyle Busch went on to dominate that race. He was in a class by himself. What would have happened if Kevin Harvick had been there?”
On lap 140 at Pocono Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on the track while the race leader Busch and much of the remainder of the field pitted for four fresh tires. Truex won his second race of the season and locked his team into the playoffs.
“Things that went really, really right for (Truex) last year are not going right for them this year,” Petty said. “He caught breaks at the right time last year and put themselves into position. Cole Pearn is not afraid to make a call like this: Let’s just stay out; let’s just gamble.”
Pit strategy played a part in the fifth defining lap as well.
On lap 122, with rain in the area, Clint Bowyer‘s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz gambled on two tires to gain track position. The race went back to green for four laps and Bowyer had to hold off his teammate Harvick for the win.
“(Bowyer) did an unbelievable job of putting Kevin Harvick in positions he didn’t want to be in,” Burton said. “Yeah, it rained, but he won that race. He won that race plain and simple.”
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