Are you good with Jimmie Johnson’s decision to go for the win, which led to his spin and cost him a chance to advance to the next round?
Nate Ryan: Initially, it made little sense, but the more I ponder it, the easier the move becomes to justify. The No. 48 isn’t racing just to make the Round of 12, it’s championship or bust every year, and the five playoff points from that win would have increased the very slim odds of advancing through the next two rounds. As Jeff Burton said Saturday on Victory Lap, going for the win trumped playing it safe for advancement because the validation and momentum would mean much more than remaining winless but still in a deep hole for the next three races. (Now if Johnson wins at Dover, I reserve the right to revisit this answer.)
Dustin Long: Yes. As Nate notes, this is about the championship and those five playoff points for the win could have been valuable in helping Johnson advance throughout the playoffs. With such a thin margin for error, those points were as valuable as a checkered flag for a team that hadn’t won in more than a year. When the opportunity is there, you seize it.
Daniel McFadin: Heck yeah. Sure, he was locked into Round 2 when he entered Turn 16, but he hadn’t won in 51 races. I can’t remember seeing Johnson make that kind of move before, but we’ve also never seen Johnson that desperate for a win before. I would have been shocked if he hadn’t made that move.
Dan Beaver: Even if he advanced, Jimmie Johnson was not going very far in the playoffs. Winning and erasing his 51-race losing streak was much more important to the success of this team – so his priorities were right. The pass itself did not have a ghost of a chance, so I expected more car control from a seven-time champion.
Who is a driver you will watch closely in the second round?
Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson. Now that he has survived a major scare, he becomes a more dangerous threat
Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He said the first round was going to be tough for him and his team. Now let’s see what they can do in these upcoming races.
Daniel McFadin: Kevin Harvick. The round features two tracks – Dover and Kansas – where he won earlier this year. Due to his DNF at Las Vegas, we haven’t seen him display dominate race winning speed on an intermediate track since his Michigan victory.
Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott: Having survived a close call in Round 1, he is going to be much more prepared at Dover and Kansas – races that are in his control. I expect he will challenge for the win in both.
Do all of the Big 3 — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — advance to the next round?
Nate Ryan: Yes. They remain on a collision course for Miami.
Dustin Long: Yes. They’ll be dominant at Dover and Kansas and will get through Talladega.
Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. I believe Talladega will put enough of a dent in one of their point situations that it will haunt them at Kansas. My guess: Truex.
Dan Beaver: Yes. Their bonus point lead over eighth is enough to give them an easy pass even with one mulligan.
What has been the finish of the year in Cup so far? The Roval finish? Chicagland duel between Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch? Brad Keselowski’s battle with Denny Hamlin at Indianapolis? Or some other race?
Nate Ryan: 2018 finishes, ranked:
1. Chicagoland Speedway
2. Daytona 500
4. Watkins Glen
Dustin Long: The Kyle Busch-Kyle Larson duel at Chicagoland remains the finish of the year for the beating and banging on the last lap at the 1.5-mile track. Plus it gave us “Slide Job!”
Daniel McFadin: Hands down the Roval. The two leaders going into the final two turns didn’t win, instead giving it to the third-place car. And Kyle Larson’s “I think I can, I think I can” charge in a damaged car to pass Jeffrey Earnhardt and get into Round 2 seals the deal.
Dan Beaver: I’d have to go with the Busch/Larson battle at Chicagoland since they both finished the race in the top two spots. I’d give honorable mentions to last week’s Charlotte road race and the Daytona 500 for the last-lap action.