Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Michigan: The Playoff Bubble Battle Is on — But Without Chase Elliott

What Happened?

At Michigan International Speedway, Chris Buescher held off a dominating Martin Truex Jr. to earn his second-consecutive victory in the NASCAR Cup Series on Monday, Aug. 7. Denny Hamlin finished third with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

This is the ninth consecutive win for Ford at the two-mile oval and the first time RFK Racing has won back-to-back races since Carl Edwards‘ two consecutive victories in 2010.

See also
Chris Buescher Goes Back to Back With Michigan Win

But What Really Happened?

Chase Elliott needed good finishes to keep his playoff hopes alive before this weekend.

Not perfect. Just good.

But now, he will need to be flawless.

His day actually started out pretty well. After qualifying 10th on Saturday, Elliott was running near the front of the field and, at one point, was even in the top five.

But it was lap 36 on Sunday afternoon where his weekend went south.

For Elliott, the incident was arguably unavoidable in his role. A tire failure sent his car into the outside wall and out of the race before the rain came to delay the end of the event for another day. Even Kyle Busch, another past champion, had a virtually similar incident earlier on.

But while Busch will still move on from the rough weekend with his playoff berth already secured, the incident meant catastrophe for Elliott.

Elliott was the closest he had been to rejoining the battle at the playoff bubble entering the weekend. However, the No. 9 team’s first DNF since his return from his suspension for an incident in the Coca-Cola 600 has sent him back down the tall slope he had been chipping away at for months.

After the checkered flag on Monday, Elliott now sits 22nd in the standings a whole 55 points behind the playoff cut.

But hold on, that doesn’t sound like much does it? After all, Truex earned exactly that many points in one race alone on Monday, right? Well, let’s put this into perspective.

Truex won both stages on Monday and finished second. If Elliott wants to close the gap between he and 16th in the points, he will need to accomplish at least that much in one of the next three races.

But even if Elliott does that much for each race in the next three weeks, Ty Gibbs, who is currently on the bubble in 16th in the standings, will need to have some horrendous races.

And considering Gibbs has an average finish of 18.2 so far this season and hasn’t had a DNF in 11 races, that’s not very likely to happen.

Oh, and by the way. Even if he did, Michael McDowell, who is in 17th, also will need to have some bad races. That goes for Daniel Suarez, as well. And Alex Bowman, and so on and so forth.

It’s not impossible, but very unlikely.

So, what does he do now?

He said it himself. Winning is his only option now.

See also
Winning Is Chase Elliott’s 'Only Option' After Crash at Michigan

Who Stood Out?

‘Monday Martin’ strikes again.

Buescher may have stolen the win and led the most laps, but Truex was the class of the field and was on the verge of winning an unfathomable third Monday race in 2023.

The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won both stages and had the clear speed to contend with just about anyone all day on Sunday and Monday.

But perhaps the most amazing accomplishment was his winning of stage two.

The JGR driver pitted on lap 104 and relinquished his lead for fresh tires and restarted 14th.

In only a matter of 18 laps, he drove through the field and retook the lead by a nose over Saurez on the final stretch to win the stage.

By the end, Truex still had the fastest car, but not the track position. Buescher kept the lead through the final cycle of green flag pit stops but felt no quarter from the No. 19 breathing down his neck in those final 40 laps.

At one point, Truex actually did pass Buescher enough to lead a lap with only 13 circuits to go, only to get loose when attempting to make it stick underneath the RFK Racing Ford.

At one point earlier this year, one of the biggest questions was if Truex was going to return in 2024 to continue racing in the Cup Series — a question that was answered on Saturday morning.

And with him returning, the whole field should be afraid of another year of ‘Monday Martin.’

Who Fell Flat?

Anyone else get a case of Deja vu?

If there was anyone aside from Truex that could have challenged Buescher for the win, it was Tyler Reddick.

The 23XI Racing driver led seven laps throughout the day and in the waning laps before the final green flag pit stop cycle, he was on the tail of race leader Buescher.

Reddick was in a similar position last week at Richmond Raceway when he was running second behind Buescher before the final green flag pit stop cycle saw him given a penalty for a commitment line violation.

This week, it was a loose wheel.

He was understandably not too pleased.

It didn’t get better for Reddick, either. The mishap happened all too close to the end of the event. Reddick never recovered, and he finished 30th.

It was the second consecutive week that a pit road issue cost the Toyota driver the chance at a win, but this time it wasn’t the driver’s fault.

Better Than Last Time?

It was a weekend broken records and near-broken records in terms of Michigan racing.

Aside from the rain delay, Monday’s finale saw the conclusion of one of the more positively viewed Michigan races ever. And also one of the most competitive.

While the most lead changes at a Michigan Cup race is a seemingly untouchable 65 in 1981, the highest amount different leaders was less than 16.

The keyword there is “was,” because now it is 16.

And while it may be his second consecutive win, there’s no doubt that Buescher’s victory is a popular one, which is helpful in the eyes of a race fan judging the quality of the event.

Was it the best race of the year? No. Michigan still has that confounded wall of dirty air that makes passing a leader near impossible — although that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen — which is a fact that Truex has brought up several times this year after finishing runner-up.

See also
Martin Truex Jr. Settles For 2nd With Dominant Car at Michigan

That said, it was an event that still saw plenty of storylines, good and bad.

And at least we no longer have that God awful 550 horsepower package.

Paint Scheme of the Race

NASCAR supposedly is going to announce news regarding its video game license soon.

That said, it probably doesn’t have much to do with the Rocket League announcement that 23XI Racing teased when it revealed Reddick’s paint scheme before the weekend.

And that makes it a NASCAR car sponsored by a non-NASCAR video game. Aside from the Joe Gibbs Racing GameStop days, when was the last time any of us saw that?

The design itself isn’t anything that will have diecast fans chomping at the bit. Aside from the busy car front, the rest of the design is sort of a boring blue with a blank white No. 45. That said, at least rear bumper is pretty neat.

But this design is more about the sponsor itself. 23XI has brought in a variety of sponsors in previous years, but seeing a recognizable brand among young race fans certainly will garner a younger fanbase to the team.

What’s Next?

The sport heads for the Brickyard.

The Cup Series returns to the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its annual trip to the circuit’s road course. Qualifying for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard will be live on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 12:35 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, Aug. 13, at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Bill B

“Buescher may have stolen the win and led the most laps”….
How does someone that leads the most laps “steal a win”?
That might be the goofiest thing I’ve ever hear. No one stole a win. It was simply a case of a car being dominant early in the race and not being as dominant by the end of the race. Happens all the time.

So now the car with the best design doesn’t really need a good design? That almost makes less sense than Buescher stealing a win. So is it best paint scheme or best sponsor?

As for the race itself, it was pretty good for Michigan which, IMO, is usually boring. A few too many single car spins/incidents but overall a very watchable race.

WJW Motorsports

Ford appreciation month indeed. Fear not, this too shall pass.

janice

what will nascar do if chase doesn’t make the playoffs? a contingency plan where he could still win championship. i imagine chase’s contract has an amendment to it about his non-racing activities that might jeopardize his performance in the 9 car.

Bill B

I think Chase will be better off not making the playoffs. He hasn’t contended for wins all season, what’s the point of making it (other than the obvious influx of money that comes along with it) if you are just going to flame out in the first round?
His fate was sealed when he injured himself early in the season.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bill B
Bobby DK

I still believe Nascar still hands out restrictor plates at Daytona. I might put a little wager on the 9 car to win!

Kevin in SoCal

Did you put a wager on the #3 car last year?

Bobby DK

Yep! He was my very,very much Longshot. Never count out Grandpa Childress!

Shayne

Elliott doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. NA$CAR and their written on a cocktail napkin waivers. What if SVG wins again at Indy? Can we get a waiver?
Looks like Wallace might make it if he doesn’t have some sort of meltdown. I hope Gibbs keeps him out.

Ellenjay

Last year the 45 won races but had different drivers. The 45 was eligible for owners championship points and made it to round of 12.
The Chicago race winner drove a car that didn’t enter every race but has a victory. Is it eligible for owners championship like the 45 with a driver change last year during the final ten races?

Kevin in SoCal

No, because they didn’t apply for Cup championship points with that car at the beginning of the season.

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