There was fire. There was rain. There was pain. There was lightning. And heat. There were tires that didn’t want to stay together. And, by the way, there was a race.
A very long race.
At its end, more than five hours after it started, Tyler Reddick was the king of the road, winning Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff chase around Texas Motor Speedway. Following in the top five were Joey Logano, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe.
The win was Reddick’s third of the year but his first on an oval track. He did not qualify for the second round of the playoffs.
The race, the first in the second round of the playoffs, could most easily be described in one word: chaos.
The tire issue was confusing. After it became evident that more than a few tires — particularly right rears — were collapsing before the end of a typical tire run, crew chiefs faced decisions about how long to keep their drivers on track in uncertain conditions.
Reddick said he was worried he might have a tire problem racing toward the checkered flag.
“I was extremely worried; I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Unfortunately, just about every time we’ve had fast cars, we’ve had some tire problems. That last run, the right sides were vibrating really, really hard there.”
Several of the playoff drivers who began the day with hopes of a smooth start to the Round of 12 watched the race finish from outside their cars. Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman failed to finish, Bell having hit the wall twice on his way to a 34th-place finish.
Every few minutes, it seemed, cars were slamming into the wall and-or each other, causing a record wave of cautions and jumbling the playoff grid. Drivers were dancing along the ragged edge between stability and sliding, making passing difficult.
The race length was extended by a rain shower and a 55-minute red flag in the final stage, although forecasters had predicted only a 15% chance of rain for the day.
Logano finished second and jumped to the playoff point lead. Ross Chastain is second. Below the cutline after one race in the round are Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman.
Chase Elliott, who held the point lead entering the race, hit the Turn 4 wall hard on lap 187, and the resulting damage caused a fire in the right front of the car. Elliott guided the car onto the apron grass and climbed out as the fire grew larger. Elliott said his right rear tire either blew apart or lost air, causing the crash.
Playoff drivers Denny Hamlin and William Byron were involved in some close encounters with each other in the second half of the race. They eventually bumped while running under caution.
One of the season’s hardest crashes occurred in the second half of the race when Cody Ware lost control of his car, slammed into the Turn 4 wall and then shot onto pit road, where crew members scattered as his car hit the pit wall. Ware was helped from the car and struggled as he crossed pit wall.
The front end of Ware’s car was demolished. He was checked and released from the infield medical center. A team official said Ware had some ankle discomfort and would be checked by medical personnel upon returning home.
Former champion Kevin Harvick, a frequent critic concerning safety issues this season, lost a tire while leading the race with 81 laps to go and slid into the wall.
A few laps later, Martin Truex Jr., who inherited the lead after Harvick’s tire issue, experienced the same problem, losing a right rear tire and hitting the wall. Harvick stayed in the race; Truex parked.
Harrison Burton, one of the race leaders, had a fire incident on pit road as his team changed tires. Burton moved out of his pit so safety workers could extinguish the fire, which started under the rear end of his Ford. Burton recovered to race in the top five.
Kyle Busch‘s troubles continued into another week as his car slipped in track resin and into the wall in Turn 4. He parked for the day.
Stage 1 winner: Kyle Larson
Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney
Who had a good race: Winner Tyler Reddick continues to shine despite racing under difficult circumstances. He led 70 laps in his third win of the season. … Justin Haley had one of his best runs of the year, finishing third. … Erik Jones was a strong sixth. … William Byron and Denny Hamlin finished in the top 10 despite tussling with each other on track.
Who had a bad race: Almost too many to name. Point leader Chase Elliott left the race in a blaze as his car erupted in flames after hitting the Turn 4 wall. … It was a dark day for playoff hopeful Christopher Bell. He hit the wall – twice – and eventually parked before the halfway point. … Kyle Busch slipped in resin that had been placed on the track and whacked the wall, ending his day. … A hard crash in the fourth turn took playoff driver Alex Bowman out of the race. … Rookie Harrison Burton led the race briefly but dropped back after a fire on pit road.
Next: The Round of 12 continues at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 (2 p.m. ET, NBC).