Austin Cindric was fastest in Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at Dover International Speedway.
Cindric was one of only two Ford-powered drivers in the top seven, with a best speed 152.749 mph, tops among the 33 cars that took to the track for the session. However, Cindric’s speed was more than 3 mph slower than Tyler Reddick‘s field-leading speed in the first practice session earlier in the day.
Riley Herbst was second fastest (152.698 mph), followed by Justin Haley (152.659 mph), Tyler Reddick (152.297 mph), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, and Zane Smith (152.233 mph).
While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.
Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.
Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.
That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.
What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.
With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.
In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.
The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.
2. A year later
Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.
A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).
Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).
3. Familiar ground
It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.
Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.
In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.
“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.
“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”
Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.
Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.
The win is the fourth of Elliott’s Cup career and came after a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 13. It’s also the first win for Chevrolet in 2019 and ends Ford’s streak of seven consecutive Talladega victories.
“What a day,” Elliott told Fox Sports. “We just had a plan and executed it really well. Obviously, could have gone both ways. Fortunately, everybody stayed together and stayed the course. Had some help on that last lap with the caution. … This is unbelievable. This is special. This is close to home for me. Kind of feels like a home race.”
Hendrick Motorsports is just the third organization to win this season, joining Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Bowman’s runner-up finish is his first top 10 of the season and his best result in 127 career Cup starts.
“There was no plan coming off of Turn 4, but unfortunately we didn’t get there before the caution came out,” Bowman told Fox Sports. “I am glad to kind of turn the season around. It has been a rough start to the year. These guys deserve way better than the finishes they’ve had. To come home second, it’s not a win, but (we’re) headed in the right direction.”
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Rookies Ryan Preece (third) and Daniel Hemric (fifth) each earned the best finishes of their career … Ryan Newman finished seventh for his third straight top 10 and his best result of the season … Brendan Gaughan placed eighth for his sixth career top 10 … Corey LaJoie placed 11th, tying his career-best result.
NOTABLE: With a new rules package that includes a tapered spacer and a taller spoiler, there were 37 lead changes, the most at Talladega since May 4, 2014 (48) … Chase Elliott’s four Cup wins account for Hendrick Motorsports’ last four wins overall … Kyle Busch (10th) has finished in the top 10 in every race this season. It’s the first time a driver has top 10s in the first 10 races of the season since Morgan Shepherd in 1990
WHAT’S NEXT: Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on May 5 on Fox Sports 1
Shortly after exiting Turn 2, Buescher appeared to be turned into the backstretch wall by Aric Almirola. DiBenedetto was trailing and had nowhere to go, running into Buescher’s car.
“We just got turned,” Buescher told Fox Sports. “We had a good driving car and put ourselves in a good position there with a handful of laps to go.
“We just turned right, got hit and turned right into the fence, destroyed our race and several race cars. Its typical of these racetracks. It gets frustrating every time you come to these places and something like this throughout the race. It’s just not very much fun.”
DiBenedetto’s car caught fire, but he was able to escape unscathed.
Truex and Haley, making his first career Cup start, also were caught up in the resulting aftermath.
The race was briefly stopped under a red flag for track cleanup.
“Initially I thought I was going to hit the inside wall and right before I got there, it started to lift,” Larson told Fox Sports. “That was probably the longest flip I’ve ever had. I just didn’t know if it would ever stop.
“I knew I was flipping and was just hoping I wouldn’t get any closer to the catchfence. It was a little bit scary, but I’m all right. Thanks to the fab shop at Chip Ganassi Racing for building safe race cars. Like I said, it was scary, but I’m just thankful I’m OK.”