Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Just Win, Baby … or Else

1. Are you not entertained (by a regular season finale at Daytona)?

It’s safe to say the idea of holding the final race of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season at Daytona International Speedway is never going to be endorsed by drivers or owners. Between the ridiculous tally of mangled cars (17 running at the end! Only 10 cars on the lead lap!) and the, shall we say, mercurial August weather in Florida, it’s easy to find aspects of it to grumble about.

But from a pure entertainment perspective, it was hard to beat. Crazy moves on the track that you generally wouldn’t see until the closing laps. A constantly shifting set of contenders for the win, including some at the end you wouldn’t normally see even at other superspeedway races. And incredible, down-to-the-last-second tension in the race for the final playoff spot between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr.

There’s something to be said for a more predictable race to be the final one before the playoffs, one where the potential for action is still high but the odds of total chaos are lower. However, if your standard for the cutoff race is “anything can happen,” and you mean it literally, Daytona is the best possible choice — and the track proved it this year.

2. Like Al Davis would say, Martin Truex Jr. needed to “just win, baby”

Many, many people are going to be talking about how “unfair” it is that Truex didn’t make the playoff field. There will be suggestions changes need to be made, that NASCAR needs to somehow ensure drivers who are consistently good throughout the whole regular season are included, wins or no wins.

But that’s all nonsense.

For starters, for every stat you quote to show how good Truex was this season, there’s another that shows he really wasn’t. He won more stages than anyone. That’s good. And he led 456 laps, more than all but five other drivers, and finished in the top 10 12 times, tied for seventh (with Blaney, among others).

But as far as this being some kind of miscarriage of justice, consider that Truex had just three top-five finishes all year — one more than the likes of Erik Jones and Chris Buescher, and less than all but two of the playoff drivers (none of whom has less). His season was fine, but dominant? Far from it.

Most of all, though, is that NASCAR drivers control their own playoff destiny from the very start. Win and you’re in, even in 2022 when it seemed more drivers than ever were capable of taking the checkered flag. It’s true that winning a race is hard, and sometimes things simply don’t break your way. But if the No. 19 team was really on top of its game, it would have found a way to win at least once in 26 races, and even Truex would probably admit that.

Like the NFL’s late Las Vegas Raiders owner famously said, the way to ensure a playoff spot is to “just win, baby.” Truex didn’t, and that’s that.

3. Is anyone lurking in the bottom four who could spring a playoff surprise?

With the exception of Chase Elliott, who is 15 points clear of even the second-place driver as the playoffs begin, one of the more intriguing aspects of this year’s postseason field is that no one is really that far apart in points. To advance to the next round, all you have to do is be 12th or higher, and everyone has a good shot at doing that.

That’s if you want to make it through on points, and as Truex just showed us, that’s no way to be. So let’s see if there are any potential threats in the bottom four to win a race and send themselves to the Round of 12 automatically.

Let’s rule out Austin Dillon right away. He’s never won at any of the three upcoming tracks and is lucky just to be in the field in the very literal sense.

Austin Cindric is easy to rule out as well. He’s still at the stage where he only appears to be a real threat at superspeedways and road courses. The rookie will get there, but not yet.

Daniel Suarez is interesting. His first Cup Series win was earlier this season, but he’s been pretty decent at Bristol Motor Speedway. If he’s going to surprise everyone with a second win, that would likely be the place.

That leaves Alex Bowman, who got off to a very solid first half of the 2022 campaign. But he’s been pretty awful since the Coca-Cola 600, with four finishes of 32nd or worse and just one top 10.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has also never won at any of the three upcoming tracks, but he has won on intermediate ovals in the past. So, that’s the pick: Bowman to win at Kansas Speedway if anyone from this group does. Probably not, though.

4. So who’s going to be eliminated after Bristol?

Sixteen men enter, 12 men leave. Not exactly the Thunderdome, but you get the idea. Four drivers aren’t going to advance to the second round of the playoffs, and they aren’t necessarily going to be the bottom four as they stand right now.

Let’s pick four, then. Suarez seems a good bet to drop right away; Trackhouse Racing Team hasn’t been as strong the second half of the season, and Suarez himself has been wildly inconsistent. Not a good combination in the postseason.

The young duo of Cindric and Chase Briscoe also seem unlikely to advance. Both look like they could be contenders someday, but today is not that day.

Oh, and Dillon. He’s not going forward barring an even bigger rabbit’s foot than he had at Daytona.

Not super creative, sure, as the numbers 12, 13, 14 and 16 drivers look likely to be bumped, with only Bowman outproducing his spot. Next round is where things could really get interesting, but we’ll cross that NASCAR bridge when we get there.

5. Let’s hear it for crazy parlay bets and the people who strike it rich when they hit

Almost every time, wild parlay bets are just tossing a few bucks away, almost like playing Powerball. But then there are times when they come through and you just have to admire the pure chutzpah.

Sunday, dear reader, was one of those.

Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports reports that a listener to the Stacking Dennys podcast was enough of a believer in the chaos of potential that they placed a $13.49 parlay bet on Landon Cassill, B.J. McLeod, Cody Ware and David Ragan. On any normal weekend, that would be $13.49 down the drain.

But this was Daytona, where underdogs sometimes turn into contenders. On Sunday, all it took was being on the lead lap at the end to finish inside the top 10. Guess what? Cassill, McLeod, Ware and Ragan all did that.

The payout? A cool million. Well, $999,463.33, but we’re guessing the winning bettor doesn’t mind coming just short.

Props to you, parlay bettors. May your willingness to put money on the wildest outcomes pay off for you in the end. Just remember that a superspeedway race is the best time to go for it in NASCAR.

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kb

My opinion..a horrible weekend for NASCAR, fans, teams and drivers.

Echo

Despite all the media shoving Denny’s team down our throat every single weekend on TV and frontstretch, neither will race for the championship. I think Kurt made a wise decision, you don’t want to start retirement with a scrambled brain. Now if Denny would just crash out on the first lap in the next three races all will be good. They don’t call him choke for no reason.

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