Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and looks back at Sunday’s Cup race at Dover International Speedway, won by Kyle Larson.
Steve Letarte is joined by Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan, with special guest NASCAR President Steve Phelps joining by phone.
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He finally ended a two-year winless streak (75 races) Sunday at Dover International Speedway. On top of that, it was in the playoffs.
The victory sends him and Chip Ganassi Racing to the third round of the postseason for the first time.
“You know, depending on who makes it out of this round, I’m still going to be a ways back on points to Martin (Truex Jr.), Kyle (Busch), Kevin (Harvick and) Joey (Logano) to start the next round,” Larson said Sunday. “To start today, I was (eighth in the standings) like 18 points back from Keselowski (in seventh), so like that’s still a lot to overcome. It’s going to be even bigger probably to start the next round.”
Larson’s win puts him at fifth in the standings overall, but he only has 11 playoff points. That trails the totals of Busch (46 playoff points), Truex (42), Hamlin (31), Logano (29), Harvick (28), Chase Elliott and Keselowski (24).
Larson gave his assessment of the three tracks awaiting him in the Round of 8.
“Texas we could go there and win,” Larson said. “We could go to Phoenix and have a good shot to win, Martinsville, hopefully we can go have a good run there. But we’ll see. It’s just nice to get a win, get some playoff points and just kind of chip away at our deficit …. compared to those guys.”
Larson’s win Sunday is the 15th time a Cup playoff driver has earned their first win of the season in the playoffs.
It first happened in 2005 with Ryan Newman at New Hampshire and Mark Martin at Kansas Speedway. Since then it’s occurred at least once in all but four seasons.
Only once out of those 15 occurrences has the first-time winner gone on to win the championship.
That distinction belongs to Tony Stewart, who did it in spectacular fashion in 2011.
After winning the playoff-opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart then reeled off five wins in the 10-race playoff, including winning consecutive races twice and then claiming the race win and title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Further, since the elimination format began only one first-time winner in the playoffs has wound up in the Championship 4. That was Jeff Gordon after he earned the last win of his Cup career in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway in 2015.
If Larson can stay relatively mistake free over the next five races and possibly grab another win in the Round of 8, he’d get the chance to match Stewart’s feat.
“To move on to the next round is special, but we’re not just satisfied with being in the Round of 8,” Larson said. “We want to go and make it into that final round of (Miami), where it’s my best track. It’s the final year for the championship race to be at (Miami), so I’ve looked at this ever since they released next year’s schedule as this is my best opportunity to win the championship. I’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Here’s every instance of a playoff driver earning their first win of the season in the playoffs.
Event Date Track Race Winner
10/6/2019 Dover Kyle Larson
10/14/2018 Talladega Aric Almirola
9/30/2018 Roval Ryan Blaney
11/1/2015 Martinsville Jeff Gordon (advanced to championship race)
10/27/2013 Martinsville Jeff Gordon
11/11/2012 ISM Kevin Harvick
9/19/2011 Chicago Tony Stewart (went on to win championship)
11/14/2010 Phoenix Carl Edwards
9/19/2010 New Hampshire Clint Bowyer
10/5/2008 Talladega Tony Stewart
9/14/2008 New Hampshire Greg Biffle
9/16/2007 New Hampshire Clint Bowyer
9/24/2006 Dover Jeff Burton
10/9/2005 Kansas Mark Martin
9/18/2005 New Hampshire Ryan Newman
“Really, really fortunate we got Talladega coming up,” said Gordon, who has three wins at the superspeedway with Logano since 2015.
“With Roush Yates horsepower and the cars we build here at Team Penske and Joey and (spotter) TJ (Majors) do a phenomenal job at that place,” Gordon said. “If you look at the speedways this year, we’ve been in contention to win in two of three of them and we were running up front at Daytona (in July) when we got damaged and then the rain delay. I feel good about going speedway racing and executing a great race.”
Logano heads to Talladega tied with William Byron in points for the last transfer spot but Byron owns the tiebreaker (best finish in this round). Logano’s car experienced a gear issue during the warmup laps, which forced him to the garage for the first 23 laps of the race.
Gordon said even if Dover hadn’t been an impound weekend he’s not sure the gear issue could’ve been caught.
“We haven’t delved through everything that happened here,” Gordon. “I don’t know that we get to the point that even on a non-impound event, we’ve only got three-and-half-hours to get our cars ready from practice to presenting them in the (inspection) line. You do what you can and we do a great job, the gear shop does a great job here. Obviously, this is an outlier for our organization to have an issue. I don’t know if we were parked on pit road a little funky, backed up the hill. It shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t know what happened. Something broke.”
Gordon explained to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the team’s approach for the rest of the event after Logano returned to the race. He finished 25 laps down, with Garrett Smithley the next car in front of him by two laps.
“You never know in those situations,” Gordon said. “Every position’s a point and every point matters. … We just put ourselves into making every lap we could, because at the end of the day as we kept going it almost became the carrot to dangle there were a couple of those cars that were off the pace and losing laps and we just kept trying to catch them. We needed about 50 more laps, I think we could’ve passed another car.”
Gordon pointed to Logano’s narrow points position heading to Talladega as a defense for Logano.
“It’s no different than chasing for a stage win because it’s a bonus point,” Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Any point you can gather in this round is going to make a big difference. If you look at the points right now, if you just said the round ended yesterday, we’d be out by one point. Because we’re tied with William Byron and they out finished us. That’s what the tiebreaker goes to, the best finish within that round.”
With the chaos of Talladega looming, Gordon doesn’t expect to change his team’s approach to the superspeedway.
“The best way that I know to avoid being caught up in the wreck at Talladega is be in front of it,” Gordon said. “If you start playing your game differently that’s when you make mistakes, because it’s not doing the things you’re used to doing. I think we’ll go to Talladega and race the way we’ve raced (all) along. Race hard, race smart and get ourselves into position.”
Team Penske – Along with Joey Logano’s 34th-place finish, a suspension issue led to Ryan Blaney placing 35th and Brad Keselowski was 11th, never showing the type of speed to compete for a win. A forgettable weekend.
Jimmie Johnson: ‘In my heart, I know we’re going the right way’
He may not have snapped what is now an 89-race winless streak, the longest of his Cup career, but recent performances show Jimmie Johnson is continuing forward progress.
Johnson finished eighth in Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway, his best finish in the last 12 races (since he came in third at Daytona on July 7).
No one needs to remind Johnson that while he’s the all-time winningest driver (11 wins) at Dover, he hasn’t won there – or any other track – since June 4, 2017.
But Johnson’s performance Sunday continues a recent upward trend that shows promise. In his last four races, Johnson has finished 11th (Las Vegas), 10th (Richmond), ninth (Charlotte Roval) and eighth at Dover.
It marks the first time he’s had three consecutive top-10 finishes this season and the first time he’s had three straight top-10s since the 2016 playoffs, when he had four top-10s in a row, including a win.
“I felt like we had a shot,” Johnson said of Sunday’s race. “When we were in clean air, our lap times were great. Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day.
“But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all. All in all, it was a good day. We ran better than eighth for most of it, but we just couldn’t finish higher.”
Johnson further lamented about the difficulty of passing on Twitter after the race, but still referred to it as a “strong weekend” overall.
I remember a day when you could pass with a faster car, that was not today… All in all a strong weekend with a few areas to dial in. 🕺🏻
Even though he was encouraged by his overall finish, the inability to pass also tempered where Johnson probably could have finished if passing would have been more free.
“No,” he replied when asked if he was satisfied with his showing. “I mean we’re here to win the race and that’s where my heart and mind is. Throughout the day, I felt like we did have pace at times to run for the lead if we could just cycle through all the pit stops to get there.
“Unfortunately, we had some things happen on pit road. I had to avoid cars coming out of stalls and it just set me back. Coming in fourth and coming out ninth, I think the way it all worked out with the pit box location, I lost positions during each pit stop. So, just really tough to recover from that. I’m disappointed there.”
Now it’s just a matter of continuing that forward progress for Johnson. Even though he failed to qualify for this year’s playoffs for the first time in his Cup career, and says next Sunday’s race at Talladega is “its own animal,” Johnson still feels he can make some noise in this season’s remaining races, particularly at Kansas two weeks from now, where he has three career wins.
“I think Kansas, we’re really excited for and feel like we can control our own destiny,” Johnson said. “The high downforce tracks, the Hendrick cars have been more competitive. I know we are all excited to get back to Kansas and build off of what we’ve had the last month or two.
“… In my heart, I know we’re going the right way.”