One Less Spot, Two Races Left to Make the Final Four

Joey Logano is in but everyone else still has a realistic shot after Vegas.


hero image for One Less Spot, Two Races Left to Make the Final Four

Good news, bad news, Ross Chastain.

Joey Logano winning the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sent the Team Penske No. 22 to the Cup Series championship race and losing the lead with three laps to go was a painful way to not get the Trackhouse No. 1 team there instead.

"It hurts, right? It hurts to lose like that with just a few laps to go to fresher tires," Chastain said.

On the other hand, Chastain leaves the first race of the three-race Round of 8 at eight points above the cutline, best amongst those not already locked in with a win. That’s an important distinction because at least one driver will make the final four based on championship points.

It was a good day even if it immediately stung.

"It’s a really, really, really good kind of hurt, but it still hurts," Chastain said. "You want to win, but again, you run second in a playoff race and we competed all day long and we did almost everything right."

The standings remain relatively tight, which is a surprise given the misfortune suffered by Christopher Bell, as he was caught up in Bubba Wallace’s retaliatory act against Kyle Larson in the middle stages of the races.

1. Joey Logano WIN
2. Ross Chastain +18
3. Chase Elliott +17
4. Denny Hamlin +6
5. William Byron -6
6. Chase Briscoe -9
7. Ryan Blaney -11
8. Christopher Bell -23

The most impressive performance came from Chase Briscoe, who started the race nine points below the cutline, and immediately struggled with absolutely no straight-line speed compared to the competition. By the end of the first stage, he was a lap down, albeit the inheritor of the free pass to get back on the lead lap.

The Stewart-Haas No. 14 team methodically made their car better, found themselves in the mix to win on older tires and finished fourth, scoring the fifth most (33) points of the race.

"We kept ourselves in the ballgame and still have a lot of work to do but we still have a chance," Briscoe said. "We are running the best we have all year long and that is about all you can ask for."

Briscoe had just taken the lead at the time of the final caution, but that caution is also the one that allowed Joey Logano and his fresher tires to cut through the top-five.

"On that last restart, I just didn’t get the job done," Briscoe said. "The 31 stalled me out and let Ross (Chastain) put us three wide which put me in a really bad spot into three. When you give up the lead you are kind of just stuck. Who knows? Those guys were coming on tires and I doubt I would have been able to hold them off, but I would have felt better about it if I had the opportunity."

The result keeps them in the mix, also remarkable that very few had Briscoe having a shot to take the No. 14 deep into the playoffs, much less having a chance into the final weeks of the season.

On the flip side,, Ryan Blaney entered the race three points below the cutline, ran up front for most of the race before suffering a mechanical issue that sent him into the wall and out of the race with 40 laps remaining.

However, Blaney won the second stage and finished sixth in the first to offset the damage and scored 25 overall points to stay within 11 points below the cutline with two races to go in the round.

Meanwhile, top seeded Chase Elliott continued a theme of opening rounds with adversity with DNFs at Darlington and Kansas, and finishing 21st at Vegas. Once again, Elliott used a bulk of his cushion in the first race and is just 17 points to the good.

"I just did a really bad job," Elliott said. "I’m obviously missing something at places like this to compete with the gentlemen that know what they’re doing."

The 2020 champion says he needs to do some self-evaluation over the next few days to improve his own intermediate track race craft before Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Homestead is definitely different, but I need to re-evaluate myself, in general, to have a shot next week," Elliott said.

With Denny Hamlin finishing fifth and William Byron 13th, it was enough to just straddle water without making up any ground or losing it.

Byron said he simply struggled.

"We were kind of just bouncing all day and we could never really get our car to stop bouncing, so we just struggled with that," Byron said. "At times, we had the balance okay, but really could never get the right balance to get ourselves to be able to run up front.

"We just hoovered around the fifth- to eighth-spot all day. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t really finish there… I thought we were going to be much better than this to be honest with you."

It was a similar story from Hamlin too.

"Honestly, I thought we were going to be a little bit better than we were today but starting 31st and to get a top-five in the second stage and top-five for the race is pretty decent," Hamlin said. "We just had one bad stop there at the end that kind of took away our track position, but we got most of that back. Pit crew did great. The guys did a great job adjusting from yesterday. We moved in the right direction and moved up in points. Just need to keep plugging along."