Kyle Larson broke a 75-race winless streak on Sunday, Oct. 6 when he crossed the finish line 1.578 seconds ahead of Martin Truex Jr. to win the Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway. With the win, Larson became the only driver to locked into the third round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs securing his, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s, first-ever round of 8 appearance.
“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega except for me. So, that’s good,” Larson said. “The last time I was at Talladega, I was on my lid and I could still end up on my lid next week, but it doesn’t matter after this win.”
The No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was one of the faster cars on the track all weekend, putting up top-five numbers in practice and qualifying second to start the race from the front row. Larson finished third in stage one, moved up to second for stage two, and leapt into the lead for the final third of the race as he led a total of 154 laps.
“After the first stage, I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like we made the car better at the same time,” Larson said. “It was just a great combination here. To be fast in practice and then be good in the race.”
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin led a race-high 218 laps and clearly overwhelmed the field in the first half of the race, easily winning stage one, but slipping to second in stage two. Hamlin continued to fall back after reporting an engine problem on lap 130 but hung on for a fifth-place finish.
“The car changed tones and lost a little power, but it’s next year’s motor which is not concerning any more this year,” Hamlin said. “Certainly, I was concerned that we weren’t going to make it. Top five, this track, I’ll take it every week.”
Engine trouble proved to be the end of the day for pre-race favorite Chase Elliott as his Hooter’s Chevy gave out on Lap 8, bringing out the only non-competition caution of the day. After a brief stop on pit-row, the Hendricks Motorsports Racing team moved the car into the garage and Elliott finished the day ranked last overall in thirty-eighth.
“I just had an engine failure of some sort. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what it was just yet. It just quit running,” Elliott said. “It’s an unfortunate way to start this round for sure. … I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks. If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there.”:
The last place finish puts Elliott seven points below the cut-line with two races remaining before the field is cut to eight drivers. Fortunately for the No. 9 team, their history at the next two tracks bodes well for his chances to make the cut. Elliott won at Talladega earlier this season and is the defending playoff winner at Kansas.
As bad as the day was for Elliott, it was worse for fellow playoff driver Joey Logano. Due to a last-minute rear-axle issue, Logano was unable to start the race with the rest of the pack. He entered the oval on lap 24, well behind the leaders, and was unable to make up any ground, finishing thirty-fifth on the day to also fall below the cut line for the round of eight.
“We definitely used our mulligan. We used the playoff points we accumulated. We just have to be perfect now,” Logano said. “We have two really good racetracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best racetracks, and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series post-season continues on Sunday, Oct. 13 on the one-mile oval of the Talladega Superspeedway with the 1000Bulbs.com 500. The green flag is scheduled to fly at 2:00 p.m eastern time.