Who’s in the headline
Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are in the headline for producing a fantastic finish to the Overton’s 400. Larson slid into the side of Busch and bounced him off of the wall in Turns 1 and 2. Busch returned the favor to Larson which resulted in a huge slide through Turn 4. Somehow, Larson saved his car, pointed it forward and managed to hang on to finish second. Aric Almirola won stage one for his first stage win of his career. Kevin Harvick grabbed yet another playoff point with a win in the second stage. William Byron won his 10h Rookie of the Year award this season.
Ryan Blaney beat Paul Menard back to the line to grab the first lap of the race. He held the top spot until lap until a battle with Clint Bowyer turned the lead over to the No. 14 on lap 19. After Bowyer pitted, Brad Keselowski grabbed the point for eight laps until he pitted as well. Austin Dillon assumed the lead from Keselowski, running another 13 laps before he pitted. Almirola took over the point after Dillon pitted thanks to Bowyer having major issues on pit road and having to serve two penalties. Almirola led through the end of the stage, lost the lead for one lap based on pit stall location and caution lap pitting.
Almirola reassumed the point for 35 more laps until Harvick wrested the lead away on lap 123. Almirola, Ryan Newman, Blaney and Kurt Busch swapped the lead six times over the final 31 laps of the second stage. On the final lap of the stage, Harvick made a move around the outside of his teammate Busch and proved how important playoff points are to teams, considering he has five wins and a pile of playoff points.
The final stage saw four drivers swap the lead five times in 18 laps to start the stage. Harvick assumed the lead for the first double-digit number of laps led in the final stage on lap 186. Harvick held the lead until lap 209 when Kyle Busch grabbed the point and led for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t without challenges though. With the race winding down and Busch looking poised for a comfortable run to the trophy, lapped traffic came into play. With three laps to go Busch caught a group of three drivers battling for position on the tail end of the lead lap. The cars gave small concessions but didn’t just move over. As a result, Larson reeled in Busch from behind and then attempted the throw the failed slider. Busch returned the favor and ultimately drove on to take the trophy.
While some people lost their minds and attempted to claim it was the best finish ever, there are a couple people who would like to dispute that assertion. Between David Pearson and Richard Petty banging their way to the 1976 Daytona 500 finish and Kurt Busch losing the win to Ricky Craven at Darlington, they are both better options for best finish/race.
Why you should care
Larson continues to lose to Kyle Busch but he also continues to run up front. It could be Larson that ultimately unseats the contenders. While Busch won the race and Larson was second, it was still the Stewart-Haas Racing teams that showed the way during the day. All four of the SHR cars led during the race and simply need to clean up some sloppiness on the pit road that cost a couple of its teams a shot at the prize. Hendrick Motorsports continues to be a disappointment, especially Jimmie Johnson.
What your friends are talking about
Depending on where your allegiances lie, you loved or hated the final lap of the race on Sunday. The drivers involved both loved it, although Kyle Busch probably would have been singing a different tune if he’d lost, and he even admitted that in his post-race press conference. Fans constantly complain about the lack of “full contact” racing on intermediate tracks. There was plenty of contact on that last lap for sure.
Darlington Raceway continues to upgrade the facility with new seats and the Bojangles Wall of Honor. The seating areas continue to be updated and a new crossover gate is on the way. Seeing the success of the throwback weekend and money being poured into the facility makes it obvious that the track will be around and on the Cup schedule for a long time.
On Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new show Dale Jr. Download, a conversation with Denny Hamlin led to an interesting revelation. Hamlin is part of an advisory group for the sport and indicated that mid-week races are not only being discussed but are looking as though they are coming to the sport. He noted that summer might be the ideal time for them since football, basketball and hockey are all off at that time of the year.
Speaking of Earnhardt, this weekend was his debut in the box. He received glowing reviews online during the broadcast. The final few laps of Sunday’s race were almost reminiscent of the Daytona 500 win by Dale Jarrett. It seemed as though Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte pulled back and let Earnhardt have the airtime, along with Rick Allen, as the exciting finish played out. Earnhardt seemed natural in the position, and it will be interesting to see how long he is loved for the job he’s doing.
Who is mad
Almirola led 40 laps in the last five years of his career. He came to Stewart Haas and was one-third of a lap from winning the Daytona 500 but hasn’t had a race-winning situation yet since he’s been there. Sunday was the day he came to SHR to experience. Almirola was in a car capable of winning the race. He led 70 laps and won the first stage. Unfortunately, a pit gun issue ruined his chances of capitalizing on that car. There may be more days like this coming, and leading more laps than in the last five years should make a driver happy. But a pair of loose wheels Sunday had him walking away with a disappointing 25th-place finish.
Dillon won the Daytona 500 but the rest of the year has been a struggle. For the second time in a row on a mile-and-a-half trac,k he burned up a wheel hub. At Charlotte, the team got back into the race but finished 34th. Sunday it ended the day and resulted in a 37th-place finish. Dillon is in a situation where worrying about staying in the top 20 in points is more important than winning races.
Who is happy
The strong finishes and wins were supposed to be commonplace by now, according to some experts in the business, for Erik Jones. Unfortunately, the wins have not come yet and he only has six top fives in his short Cup career. Sunday was close with another sixth place for Jones. He is continuing to run better and better, and that win just might be around the corner.
Paul Menard won his first pole in 10 years on Saturday. His move to Wood Brothers is slowly but surely showing more fruit. It would not be a surprise to see Menard grab a win that puts him into the playoffs. A finish of 13th after the pole wasn’t what Menard wanted for sure but it was another step in the right direction.
When the checkered flag flew
In his 479th start of his career, Kyle Busch grabbed his 48th victory.
This is Busch’s second career triumph at Chicagoland.
For 2018 Busch has five victories, which ties him with Kevin Harvick for the most of the year.
On the all-time list, Busch ranks 14th in a tie with Herb Thomas.
Sunday’s runner-up was Kyle Larson, for the fourth time in 2018.
Larson’ssecond-placee run was his best career finish at Chicagoland.
On the all-time list of second place finishers, Larson’s tied for 46th with James Hylton, Junior Johnson and Cotton Owens.
Kevin Harvick finished on the podium for the seventh time in his career at Chicagoland.
This is Harvick’s ninth top-three finish of 2018.
The podium run for Harvick gives him 125 for his career which keeps him in 14th on the all-time list just one behind Ned Jarrett for 13th.
William Byron finished 20th which was best among rookies to claim Rookie of the Race.
Byron has won Rookie of the race 10 times this year. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won it seven times.
Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners in 17 races of 2018. At this point it is impossible for there to be more than 16 unique winners in the regular season, so all winners are locked into the playoffs based on winning a race, assuming they attempt the remaining events in the regular season. The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):
1) Kyle Busch – 30
2) Kevin Harvick – 27
3) Joey Logano – 7
4) Martin Truex Jr – 18
5) Brad Keselowski – 4
6) Clint Bowyer – 10
7) Kurt Busch – 2
8) Denny Hamlin – 2
9) Kyle Larson – 0
10) Ryan Blaney – 4
11) Aric Almirola – 1
12) Jimmie Johnson – 0
13) Chase Elliott – 0
14) Erik Jones – 0
15) Alex Bowman – 0
19) Austin Dillon – 5
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
Multiple on-track passes for the lead. Tire strategy that put fast cars behind slow cars. Teammates racing each other for a stage win. A final lap where one driver put another in the wall and that driver returned the favor by sending the first for a slide for life. There was nothing that a fan of racing could not appreciate about the event. As a result, there will be six ice-cold Pony Pilsners from Half Acre Beer Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
The traditional mid-season mark of the NASCAR schedule is the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Next Saturday night you will be able to see race coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET on NBC. It is also available on the NBCSports app. If you’d like to listen to the race it will be on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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