1. Both 23XI Racing Cars Poised to Knock Down Round of 12 Door
You’d be forgiven if at this time a week ago you had discounted the chances of both 23XI Racing drivers, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, being able to advance to the Round of 12. Reddick’s crew has been erratically inconsistent and with Wallace having scratched and clawed for the final playoff spot, the No. 23 team would be excused for being mentally exhausted from that grind.
That was last week. Now, everything has changed. As the Southern 500 unwound on Sunday (Sept. 3) night, Reddick, even with his baffling on-track pit attempt, had a chance late to get by Kyle Larson. Wallace rallied back from early-race issues that included contact with Joey Logano to finish in the top 10.
As a result, Reddick is third in the standings and Wallace is just one point out of 12th. That’s big for one reason – that 23XI has been very, very good at the next track on the schedule of Kansas Speedway. Reddick and Wallace don’t necessarily need to win at Kansas, but a top-five day can go a long way in not having to stress about getting hung up in someone else’s mess in the first-round finale in two races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
You don’t want to lose your postseason chances in the playoff opener, and that is exactly what Wallace and Reddick have done.
2. Darlington’s the Perfect Place to Kickoff the Playoffs
The 2024 NASCAR schedule is expected to be revealed within a few weeks or so. For the most part, there should not be radical changes, though the smart money would be on Indianapolis Motor Speedway moving its race from the road course back to the oval.
There’s one thing that should not change – that would be Darlington Raceway kicking off the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
You could go on and on with drivers that left the venerable old Lady In Black with their chances of advancing to the next round battered and bruised after a bout with the egg-shaped track.
That’s exactly the point. Advancing to the Round of 12 and beyond should not be easy. It should be hard, very hard. With apologies to intermediate tracks such as Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the physical demand of Darlington that forces you to not just race other racers but the track itself is not easy, and being able to fight through Darlington to begin the playoffs is a perfect fit.
Is it hard? Yes. But winning a championship should be hard to do.
3. Kevin Harvick’s Postseason Hopes May Ride on Bristol
Tears were likely shed Sunday night if you are a Kevin Harvick fan. He and crew chief Rodney Childers appeared to have a strategy all laid out to snag the win before Reddick’s slowing down on the track right in front of Ryan Newman ruined those best-laid plans.
The result for Harvick with Kansas and Bristol still to come in the first round is that Harvick needs to either make up ground or win to advance to the Round of 12.
Kansas in the past year is basically a Toyota playground. That’s great for Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI drivers but not anyone else. But if you think Harvick’s chances to win his way to the next round are gone, think again.
Bristol is the final race of the opening round, and that plays right into Harvick’s hands. He’s not as formidable there as Phoenix Raceway, but in the past three races, he has finished no worse than 10th and gotten a win.
Even in 2021 when Harvick was winless, his best chance to win was the fall Bristol race when he led a season-high 71 laps, finishing second.
Harvick’s farewell season story is not done yet, and an intriguing chapter is yet to come at Bristol.
4. If There’s a Double Standard, It’ll Find Its Way to Bubba Wallace
A degree of attention was made this week, frankly, more than should have been, on Wallace declining an interview from NBC before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
Like most things, it got a lot more attention because Bubba Wallace did it.
Wallace is not the first driver to decline an interview and he won’t be the last. Sometimes a driver is not feeling well. Sometimes they are not in the mood to talk. It happens. In other cases, a driver may do a quick walk-and-talk interview to avoid saying much beyond the bare minimum or even stay in the transporter to make it harder to be approached for a post-race interview.
Even this past Sunday at Darlington, Harvick was among the playoff drivers not on pit road following the race. If that is a driver’s prerogative, that’s fine. And when that happens, there is no reason for one of the sport’s network TV analysts to make it an issue that stewed enough that Wallace felt he had to defend himself this past Sunday at Darlington.
I’m not naive to think anyone will be convinced to like or dislike a driver more. It has about the same chances of getting someone who voted for one candidate in the last presidential election to vote for the other side.
But there is a double standard that some drivers are held to that should not exist.
5. Sunday a Step in the Right Direction for Legacy’s Drivers, But…
Sunday may have been just what the doctor ordered by Legacy Motor Club. It’s been a tumultuous season for LMC, to say the least. But much like Tony Kanaan at the Indianapolis 500, it’s becoming hard not to expect Erik Jones to be a factor at Darlington.
Even in a season where some things have not panned out for the driver of the No. 43, he was a threat on Sunday, eventually finishing in the top 10. And when you consider how disastrous this year has been for the other Legacy car, Carson Hocevar coming home 17th should feel like a win for that group.
It was a great night for LMC, but let’s not assume it is back. Yes, going back to the shop knowing you can run well is huge, but the goal now is to finish out the year and get rolling going into 2024.
Darlington was a great chance for Legacy to right the ship, and both cars took full advantage in taking the first step toward that.
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