TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other.
So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.
It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.
Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added.
At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.
The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville.
A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.
The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.
“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.
“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.
“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”
Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.
When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.
“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back.
“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on.
“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”
Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.
“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race.
“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”
Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season.
McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races.
“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”
Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh.
“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”
Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course.
NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.
Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).
“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.
“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”
Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.