The first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s ‘Round of 12’ is complete. Originally scheduled as a Saturday night show, Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was postponed to Sunday for wet weather around the Charlotte/Concord area as well as other conditions relating to Hurricane Matthew. On Sunday morning, the skies finally cleared and 334 scheduled laps were completed without a hitch.
When the race in NASCAR’s backyard was over, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick were in the bottom four in the Chase standings, each of them running into adversity throughout the afternoon. Dillon and Harvick are not new to facing elimination during this playoff season while Logano and Elliott are on the chopping block for the first time.
After having a rough go at Chicago, Harvick came back and won New Hampshire to move into the ‘Round of 12’ and keep himself in championship contention. The next round of three races started off in the same way for the driver of the No. 4 Busch Hunting Chevrolet. He struggled at Charlotte and will now have to pull off a win at Kansas or Talladega if he wants to move on to the ‘Round of eight’ and his second Sprint Cup championship.
Harvick started on the pole after qualifying was rained out and led the first 12 laps, but trouble came when the Bakersfield, Calif. native radioed to his team that he was experiencing mechanical issues. He went to pit road and then to the garage to diagnose the problem.
“It just suddenly shut off and the things that it points to are no oil pressure,” Harvick said in a Stewart-Haas Racing advance. “It’s definitely not a power issue with the battery or anything like that. I hate it for everybody on our Busch team. They made great adjustments today and got our car back where we needed to be to run up front and everything was going fine. Lots of things can go wrong, and today they did.”
Harvick is now sitting 12th in the Chase standings with 3004 points.
Dillon went into Dover in danger of elimination. An eighth-place finish at the ‘Monster Mile’ helped dig him out of the hole and he moved on to the ‘Round of 12’. Unfortunately, the No. 3 Dow Coating Materials Chevrolet driver is in the red again after a late-race incident at Charlotte.
“We felt like taking two tires would help our track position,” Dillon explained in a Richard Childress Racing advance. “We had 14 laps on our lefts and I got through the gears well. We really struggled on pit road. We were just trying to get track position and this is what you get.”
Dillon described what went down on the restart that caused the ‘big one’ at lap 260. “I felt like I got to third gear pretty clean and then I felt contact, and then I’m spinning through the grass,” he said. “It’s part of it and we took two tires there and you know the risks when you get into it. You just hope that doesn’t happen obviously.”
Sitting in ninth, just outside the top eight in the playoff standings with 3009 points, Dillon has his work cut out for him if he wants to stay in the hunt. “There have been a lot of people that are in the Chase that have wrecked so far,” he said. “We just have to do a lot; we have to win one of the next two races. I believe we can do just that.”
Elliott, who ties Dillon in the Chase standings with 3009 points, had a strong run going when he was also involved in the lap-260 melee. “I think the No. 3 spun his tires,” the driver of the No. 24 3M Chevrolet explained in a Team Chevy advance. “I think they just put on two tires. I think the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was trying to push him and ended up getting him out of shape and then I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) didn’t see it and ended up getting into me. I tried to get off the brakes and get down to keep that from happening but definitely unfortunate. We had such a good car and I am devastated that we didn’t get the result that the guys deserved. They gave me such a fast 3M Chevy and that is all you can ask for. We just have got to go and do more of that next week.”
Logano, who swept the ‘Round of 12’ a year ago, ran into trouble in turn two on lap 118 and again on lap 157. “Tires are popping,” he said in the garage and in a Ford Racing advance. “We’re not the only car that had the issue, but we’re the ones that hit the wall when it happens, so that’s not the best place to have them go down. We had a fast car. Our car was capable of winning the race. We drove up from 10th and were up to third and running down the leaders, so I felt really good about what we had. I don’t know. Things happen. It’s part of racing, I guess.”
Unfortunately, the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil driver hit the wall twice. “One was the left-front (tire) and one was the right-front from what I hear,” he explained. “Once you hit the wall once, it kind of throws the front-end geometry out of line and that’s probably what screwed up the second one for all I know. Who knows? I know it hurts a lot when you hit the wall that hard, but I’m glad I’m alright.”
Athough he’s in the 11th spot in the Chase standings with 3006 points, it’s not over for Logano. He’s headed to Kansas, a 1.5-mile oval where he has the two previous fall race wins under his belt. “We’re not out by any means,” he declared. “We’re still fighting. We’ve got a really good race team and we can go to Kansas and win. These two race tracks – Charlotte and Kansas – are our best ones and we proved last year that we can do it and we’ll just have to do it again.”