BLANEY WINS WILD ROVAL FINISH; JOHNSON’S VIE FOR WIN KNOCKS 7-TIME CHAMP OUT OF PLAYOFFS
Here’s a weekly glance at the four-round, elimination-style Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs that make a stop at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 4, for the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8. Brief recaps of the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Playoffs also are included as both series will compete at Texas Motor Speedway as part of a NASCAR Playoff tripleheader weekend set for Nov. 1-4.
Playoff Field: The 12-driver field competing in the three-race Round of 12 consists of defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing; Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports; 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske; 2014 champ Kevin Harvick, 2004 champ Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing; 2015 series champ Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing; and Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Race Recap: Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was looking at crashing the Round of 12 NASCAR Playoffs party, but instead his crash in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway opened the door for his fellow contenders to advance and end his bid for an eighth title.
Johnson, who opened the day outside of the top 12 positions that would advance to the next round, attempted an aggressive final-lap pass on race leader Truex Jr. in the frontstretch chicane, but he spun and collected both cars that gift-wrapped the first win of the season for Blaney.
It was a costly move for Johnson, who would have advanced to the next round with a runner-up finish. However, the spin dropped him to eighth place and tied for 11th in the playoff standings with Almirola and Larson. The latter two advanced in a tiebreaker based on the best finish in the opening round.
“Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that braking zone, I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly I did and spun him around. Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day, which I feel bad about.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points … and it bit me.”
“He wasn’t ever going to make it through that corner whether I was there or not,” added Truex Jr., who finished 14th. “Just desperation on his part and pretty stupid really if you think about it because he was locked into the next round and now he’s out. I guess if there’s a silver lining, that’s it.”
In addition to Johnson, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin were the four who were eliminated from playoff contention following the Round of 16 finale.
Blaney joined Kyle Busch (Richmond) and Keselowski (Las Vegas) in the trio that advanced to the Round of 12 by virtue of a victory in the opening round.
“Tough weekend, just kind of avoided some stuff,” Blaney said. “You hate to see two guys get into it there and take out two of the best cars all day. But that’s racing sometimes. We were just at the right spot at the right time. It’s cool to be in Victory Lane and move on to the next round.”
Blaney led a group of playoff contenders that claimed eight of the top-10 positions, including top-five efforts by Bowyer (3rd), Bowman (4th) and Kurt Busch (5th).
Click https://goo.gl/41nHMM for the race recap at NASCAR.com.
How They Stand: Blaney (Charlotte), Kyle Busch (Richmond) and Keselowski (Las Vegas) advanced to the Round of 12 by virtue of their opening-round victories. The nine drivers that advanced via points were Truex Jr., Harvick, Kurt Busch, Elliott, Logano, Bowyer, Larson, Bowman and Almirola. The four who were eliminated from championship contention were Johnson, Jones, Dillon and Hamlin.
The Round of 12 championship standings are reset at 3,000 points in addition to the bonus points accumulated by the contenders. Heading into the Round of 12, the standings are Kyle Busch (1st, 3,055 points), Harvick (2nd, 3,050), Truex Jr. (3rd, 3,038), Keselowski (4th, 3,025), Bowyer (5th, 3,015), Logano (6th, 3,014), Kurt Busch (7th, 3,014), Blaney (8th, 3,013), Elliott (9th, 3,008), Larson (10th, 3,006), Almirola (11th, 3,001) and Bowman (12th, 3,000).
A victory in a Round of 12 race by a championship-contending driver advances him to the next round and the remaining positions to advance are based off points earned in those three races. Four more drivers will be eliminated from championship contention following the Round of 12.
Next Up: The Round of 12 three-race segment opens with Sunday’s NASCAR Playoff race at Dover International Speedway. (TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN).
Coming Soon: The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is the middle event of the three-race segment in the Round of 8, where eight drivers will remain in contention for the Cup championship. The Round of 8 consists of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (Sunday, Oct. 28, NBCSN), the AAA Texas 500 (Sunday, Nov. 4, NBCSN) and Phoenix International Raceway (Sunday, Nov. 11, NBC). These three races will determine which four drivers will head to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 19, NBC) to vie for the series championship.
Xfinity Series Playoff Update: Chase Briscoe, a non-playoff contender, led the final 24 laps of Saturday’s 55-lap Drive for the Cure 200 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at Charlotte Motor Speedway to earn his first career Xfinity Series victory.
Only two playoff drivers cracked the top five with Austin Cindric finishing third and Christopher Bell taking fifth. The Round of 12 cut-off race that trims the field to eight contenders is Saturday’s Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m., TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN).
Heading into that race, Bell is the only driver locked into the next round by virtue of his win at Richmond. Only 12 points separate third through eighth place in the playoff standings with Ross Chastain currently in that final transfer spot. He holds an eight-point lead over Cindric. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to a Round of 8 race Saturday, Nov. 3, with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Camping World Truck Series Playoff Update: The series is idle until Oct. 13 at Talladega, which is the Round 1 elimination race that will trim the playoff field from eight to six. Justin Haley and Grant Enfinger have secured berths in the next round by virtue of their wins at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, respectively. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to a Round of 6 race Friday, Nov. 2, with the JAG Metals 350.
Note-While the championship fields are reduced by virtue of elimination in each of the rounds, each race continues to have a full field competing.