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Toby's Take: NASCAR's Darkness Clock Added Clarity, Intensity to Finish of Chicago Street Race

NASCAR told teams that if weather delayed Sunday's race at the Chicago Street Course, the race would conclude at 8:20 PM CT. The weather did impact the race, and the clock added much-needed clarity to the end of the race.


hero image for Toby's Take: NASCAR's Darkness Clock Added Clarity, Intensity to Finish of Chicago Street Race

I have never shied away from the opinion that I don't feel NASCAR Cup Series races should ever have shortened distances. That's just my personal belief. Someone winning the Coca-Cola 600 after running just over 300 miles just doesn't sit well for me. That being said, I do understand that it's not realistic to expect every race to be able to run to its advertised distance, as was the case with Sunday's Grant Park 165 at the Chicago Street Course.

As weather put the race into a red flag for one hour, 43 minutes, and one second, Sunday's race was ultimately shortened to 58 of the scheduled 75 laps due to darkness.

While the race being shortened sucks, there was an added element on Sunday that made the situation bearable as a spectator, and it ramped up the intensity for the competitors.

Unlike many rain-delayed races, which ultimately get shortened, Sunday's race was the first event to utilize the new NASCAR Rule Book addition, Section, which allows NASCAR to issue a predetermined race-ending time to competitors and fans ahead of time. Once that pre-determined time limit is reached, the leader will be given the white flag on their next lap.

As a result of this rule, everyone knew approximately when the checkered flag would fly in the Street Race at Chicago. A very welcomed change to how these situations have been handled in the past as it allowed teams to strategically plan for the finish.

Some drivers and teams like Tyler Reddick and the No. 45 23XI Racing team and Christopher Bell and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team opted to pit prior to the end of Stage 2 to take on slick Goodyear tires in an effort to blast past the drivers who remained on the worn-out treaded wet-weather tires on the impending restart.

This strategy play is what allowed Joey Hand and Alex Bowman to battle it out for the lead on a restart with roughly 16 minutes remaining in the event while Bell, Reddick, and others knifed their way through the field on the ragged edge of grip on the damp conditions.

Bowman would make what would be the race-winning pass on Hand at Lap 51, and immediately the focus turned to where the drivers on slicks were in the running order.

Bell, who had made it up to the seventh position, would fall by the wayside in a crash with Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Carson Hocevar on Lap 55.

But as Bell's hopes at the win were dashed, Reddick was still flying through the field. Bowman would have to hold off the hard-charging Reddick over the final laps of the race.

As Reddick closed quickly on the final lap to around a second back, it looked like Bowman was in for a nail-biting finish if he hoped to hold on for his first win in the NASCAR Cup Series since the 2022 season. However, Reddick made a mistake and caught the concrete barrier on the exit of Turn 5. This hampered his No. 45 Toyota Camry and allowed Bowman the reprieve he needed to cap off the win.

The frenzied finish was made possible due to NASCAR's newly installed Darkness Clock. It quite literally took a race-shortened event, and injected strategy, and uncertainty into the finish.

In years past, NASCAR would let a rain-delayed race play out naturally, and some time following what the sanctioning body felt would be the final pit cycle of the event, NASCAR would then give out a revised number of laps remaining in the event.

It was always a downer. The darkness clock took a crappy situation on Sunday and gave us an incredible finish to the Grant Park 165.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

Bowman's Win Continues to Create Additional Pressure for Playoff Hopefuls

When you see four drivers with three victories each over the opening 20 races of a NASCAR Cup Series season, you typically expect to see a decent chunk of the Playoff field to be determined by drivers pointing their way into the field. Yeah, that won't be the case in 2024.

With his unexpected win in Sunday's Grant Park 165 at the Chicago Street Course, Hendrick Motorsports' Alex Bowman became the 12th different winner in the NASCAR Cup Series this season, which means there are only four slots left in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field up for grabs, and there are a lot of big names still vying for their first wins of the year.

Martin Truex Jr. (2017 NASCAR Cup Champion), Ty Gibbs, Ross Chastain (four career Cup wins), and Chris Buescher (three wins last season) are the four drivers sitting precariously in the final four spots on the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid, which feels unjust as all four drivers have had solid campaigns so far this year.

But in a win and you're in Playoff format, you're never truly locked into the Playoffs unless you, well, win a race.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, close definitely doesn't count for NASCAR Cup Series wins or all four drivers would likely already be locked into the Playoffs this season.

But while they've all been consistent, and they've narrowly missed victory lane this year, there are some solid names below the Cutline, who could really make life miserable for Truex, Gibbs, Chastain, and Buescher over the next six races.

Bubba Wallace, who currently is the first driver outside of the cutline, found himself inside the top-16 before Joey Logano scored a win at Nashville Superspeedway a couple of races ago.

While Wallace hasn't had Playoff-caliber consistency for the majority of the season and suffered three DNFS over a nine-race stretch beginning with Talladega, the driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota is showing up with more and more speed with each passing weekend.

Wallace finished seventh at Nashville Superspeedway, and while he came home 13th at Chicago, he had a much better car than that. Wallace had to rally from a mid-race spin at the hands of Bowman, the eventual winner of the race. Next up is Pocono Raceway, which is a track where Wallace has scored decent finishes over his last three starts.

Perhaps that team is gaining momentum at the right time.

Kyle Busch, who sits 19th on the Playoff Grid, is another interesting name that could pull through. While it's been a tough season, no doubt, Busch put his recent skid on hold this weekend with a ninth-place finish at Chicago.

And while Busch has had six finishes of 27th or worse over his last 11 starts, the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has shown race-contending speed in several races this season. I wouldn't count Busch out just yet. He has won at least one race in each of the last 19 NASCAR Cup Series seasons, and he will do everything in his power to extend that incredible streak to 20 seasons.

Beyond Wallace and Busch, Chase Briscoe, Todd Gilliland, Josh Berry, Michael McDowell, and Noah Gragson have all been trending forward in recent months, and seem to be on the verge of potentially contending. If one of those drivers and their teams can hit on something in one of the six remaining races, who knows, they may just be able to land in victory lane.

With six races remaining in the Regular Season, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race is heating up, and with each new winner, the pressure for drivers, who weeks ago felt they were near locks to make the Playoffs, will continue to ramp up.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

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