Halfway through the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, many drivers have seen their hopes proverbially go up in smoke, while others have taken advantage of their competitors’ misfortunes to advance themselves closer to the ultimate prize in stock car racing.
On Saturday night, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup reached its halfway point, with four drivers fighting to stay in contention with the threat of elimination looming after just one more race at Talladega Superspeedway next week.
“It’s always good to experiment and let’s see how it goes,” said sophomore Josh Luster.
Although Luster picked Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to perform well in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the third-generation Earnhardt did not have a good run, although the veteran driver from Kannapolis, North Carolina finished 20th in the event, despite breaking a shift lever just before the race’s halfway mark.
The on-track action, however, did not disappoint, as Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon traded the top spot throughout the race’s early laps. Although fans received a good show for their money, Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman did not feel as fortunate.
Patrick and Newman tangled in the race’s closing stages, potentially eliminating Newman from advancing into the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
Strategy played an important role in the outcome of the Chase’s fifth race, as many drivers made gutsy moves by only stopping for two tires during pit stops. Some drivers such as Austin Dillon and later Brad Keselowski did not make pit stops at all. Keselowski, however, was not able to repeat the success that he had when he won the 2013 Bank of America 500, as he slid back and made contact with fellow Chase competitor Matt Kenseth.
Harvick took advantage of Keselowski and Kenseth’s mishap and regained command of the race in its closing stages, eventually holding off Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray for his third win of the 2014 season and his first since the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington, South Carolina on April 12. McMurray, who finished third, had a strong run, as did his teammate Kyle Larson, who also finished within the top 10. Larson, a rookie in Sprint Cup in 2014, was in the lead during a green-flag run late in the event, but he could not seal the deal and score his first top-level victory.
Even with the countless dramatic moments on the racetrack, the most drama to be found on that Saturday night in Charlotte was actually off the track. After he made contact with Denny Hamlin at the race’s conclusion, Keselowski found himself in the midst of a brawl involving his crew, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew, and Matt Kenseth’s team. To add further drama, the normally mild-mannered Kenseth hunted down Keselowski in order to have a few choice words with the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
With not one, but two post-race altercations involving the same driver, it would be fair to consider the fifth race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup a pivotal event that could potentially determine the key players in the ultimate race for the championship at Homestead, Florida on Nov. 16.