Double up at Dover Downs – One race to go
Six spectacular races in three days is what we were treated with at Dover International Speedway this weekend! Unfortunately, fans were not allowed to attend, but if they were, I bet they would’ve had an amazing weekend. On Friday Ty Gibbs won the ARCA Menards East Series race, which was followed up by a win by Zane Smith in the Truck Series. On Saturday we saw the first part of the double double-header with Justin Allgaier finally scoring his first win of the season in the Xfinity Series, and Denny Hamlin winning the Cup Series race, scoring the maximum of 60 points. On Sunday Chase Briscoe scored his first Xfinity Series win since Indianapolis, followed by Kevin Harvick winning the final Cup Series race, scoring 60 points as well.
By winning the first stage in Sundays race, Kevin Harvick secured the win of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, giving him an additional 15 playoff points. Behind Hamlin and Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd in both races, following up on his five straight 3rd place finishes, which mean he’s now got SEVEN straight top 3 finishes, without a win. No matter what happens at Daytona, that has got to be a great momentum builder going into the playoffs.
Behind these guys though, as usual, my main focus at this point of the season is the playoff bubble battle. Going into this double header weekend at Dover, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto both had a 66 point gap down to the cut-off line while William Byron had 25. Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick was just below the line, 25, 35 and 57 points behind respectively.
On Saturday Clint Bowyer had one of his best races of the season, scoring 15 stage points and finishing in the 6th position, with Jimmie Johnson in 7th with seven stage points. Meanwhile Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron struggled badly all race long, finishing 20th and 28th with no stage points. Erik Jones finished 12th and Tyler Reddick 13th. This brought DiBenedetto’s gap down to a mere 27 points, while Johnson moved up above the cut-off line, just three points ahead of Byron who dropped out of the top 16.
On Sunday the table was completely flipped over for some drivers and William Byron went from miserable to great overnight. With a good strategy call to finish off the first stage he managed to score 8 stage points by finishing 3rd. At the end of the day though it was Jimmie Johnson who finished best of the bubble drivers in 3rd with William Byron in 4th. However, thanks to his 13 stage points compared to Johnsons five, Byron outscored Johnson by seven points, moving him back above the cut-off line, for now. The rest of the bubble drivers had an intense battle among themselves further back, fighting it out for every single point they could get and in the end Clint Bowyer finished 16th, Matt DiBenedetto 17th, Tyler Reddick 18th and Erik Jones finished 20th. This drops Reddick out of the playoff battle, putting him in a must win situation going into Daytona.
With just one race left of the 2020 regular season, things couldn’t be more intense. And with the final race being at Daytona, absolutely anything can happen. And remember, a surprise win by somebody below the cut-off line at Daytona will shake things up even more. So these guys are basically racing for 15th place to be “safe”. All in all, there is 60 points to race for at Daytona, so each of these drivers will probably have a slightly different approach to the race, but in the end they will all have to be there at the end if they want to have a shot at getting in to the playoffs.
Here is the current playoff battle: (numbers in brackets are points gained or lost at Dover)
14. Clint Bowyer +57 (-9)
15. Matt DiBenedetto +9 (-57)
16. William Byron +4 (-21)
17. Jimmie Johnson -4 (+21)
18. Erik Jones -50 (-15)
Before Daytona I will give you my predictions on the most unpredictable race of the season, so stay tuned.