Yesterday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway ended the ‘Round of 16’ in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. 12 drivers will now continue to race for a chance to move on to the ‘Round of Eight’ and the ‘Championship Four’.
When 400 laps were complete at the ‘Monster Mile’, Chevrolet drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, as well as Chris Buescher of the Ford camp, were eliminated from championship contention. The foursome will be gunning for race wins and have now become spoilers for the next seven weeks.
At the beginning of the race, it looked as though the bottom four holes in the Chase standings would not change much. That was until bad luck began for Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Larson and McMurray.
In the early going, Larson was penalized during a pit stop for having too many crew members over the wall when he came in to diagnose a battery issue. As a result, the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet fell three laps down while serving the penalty. The Michigan (August) race winner came to Dover above the Chase cut line but at lap 46, he had fallen out of the top 12.
“I don’t know what happened with the battery or whatever,” Larson said in a Team Chevy post-race release. “But, I lost power. We lost a lap. We had too many men over the wall. And, really, without too many men over the wall, we probably would have been all right because I was only a lap down.”
Trouble came again on lap 182 when Larson got into the wall and cut a tire. He would ultimately finish the day 25th. Although Larson is no longer in the championship picture, he knows he can improve on his performance.
“We have good speed with our race team and the Target Chevrolet is fast week in and week out,” he said. “So I can still run for a top-five in points. I think I can finish fifth at best. We are going to try and do everything we can to do that or at least try and finish as high up as we can and get a couple of wins. I still have some really good tracks for me that are left in the Chase. So we are just going to dig deep and work hard and try and get ourselves some more wins.”
McMurray began the race just five points off the Chase cut line. Just 64 laps into the race, the driver of the No. 1 Credit One Chevrolet moved squeaked into the plus side of the playoff standings. However, mechanical issues plagued him at lap 164. McMurray’s chances were over 29 laps later when the engine expired, ending his day in 40th place on the race result board and 15th in the playoff standings.
“It vibrated earlier in the race and it went away,” McMurray explained of the engine in the Team Chevy release. “And it’s weird because engine issues usually don’t go away. It felt like it had power and then I don’t know about 40 laps before it finally blew up, it just started vibrating real bad. They (the team) said what broke, but I couldn’t hear them over all the cars on the track. I’m not sure. Very unfortunate. It is just the way it goes.”
Sitting just 12 points off the top-12 s at lap 181, it looked as though Stewart had a chance at moving on for his final shot at a Sprint Cup title. Although he finished 13th at Dover, the driver of the No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Mobil 1 Chevrolet came up short. After the race, in a Stewart-Haas Racing advance, he was still positive. ““I’m pretty excited about our day,” Stewart said. “We were much better than we were yesterday. Really proud of our team. We kept making it better all day. That is as good as we had.”
Stewart earned his way to the Chase back in June when he won at Sonoma after missing the first eight races of the season. His career record from Dover includes three wins, 11 top-five finishes and 17 top 10’s.
After winning Pocono’s August race to earn a berth into the Chase, Buescher needed to pull off a win to stay in the hunt. Unfortunately a 23rd-place finish in Dover was not enough for the No. 34 CSX-Play It Safe driver.
“It wasn’t a bad day for our CSX Ford,” Buescher said in a Ford Racing post-race release. “We made some good adjustments, but had one run that just wasn’t quite there and almost felt like it was a bad set of tires. The way the race played out with long green runs, we didn’t really have a chance to recover from that one.”
Although he’s been eliminated from the playoffs, Buescher is still looking forward to the next seven races. “We go back to racing the same way we did this weekend,” he said. “Nothing really changes. We’ve got the opportunity to test a little bit more and we still have the opportunity to take chances for the rest of the season, but I’m really proud of the guys for all the work this year. To even be in the Chase was a really big deal for Front Row Motorsports and this 34 team. My hat’s off to everybody who has worked so hard this season. It’s unfortunate this is the end of our Chase, but it was a pretty good deal to make it in our first season.”