By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Out of the three races in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Texas Motor Speedway was supposed to be the least chaotic, but it was anything but for those still in the title fight.
Drivers had hoped to bank a good finish in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 to kick off this stretch of races on a high note, but for some of them, they will have a hole to dig out of over the course of the next two weeks at Talladega and Texas.
The common denominator in all of the incidents affecting Playoff drivers?
Christopher Bell was the first of the Playoff drivers to run into trouble, spinning on two different occasions due to blown tires. The first spin occurred on lap 79, which he was able to rebound from, but on lap 138, he wasn’t as lucky, spinning into the wall in Turn 4.
Though his crew gave it a shot to try and get the car repaired within the 10-minute time allotted by the Damaged Vehicle Policy, they ultimately ran out of time and he would be done for the day.
“I would get a slight vibration seconds right before the tire went,” Bell explained. “When it happened on the straightaway, I was able to get it slowed down before turn one, but the second one happened right in the middle of the turn. Very disappointing weekend.
“I was optimistic when they dropped the green flag. I had a pretty poor Saturday, but felt like we had a lot of speed in our Rheem Camry to make a day out of it, but unfortunately, tires didn’t work our way.
Finishing the worst out of the Playoff drivers in 34th, Bell now heads into the gauntlet of the next two weeks having to overcome a 29-point deficit.
“Talladega – I guess we are going to go roll the dice,” Bell continued. “ROVAL, I think we will be alright. Road courses haven’t been our strength, but we have been good at a couple of them. I don’t know if we are going to be able to get out of this points hole, but we will give it our best.”
Shortly after Bell’s first spin, Alex Bowman had a similar incident to what took Bell out of the race, spinning in Turn 4 due to a tire issue, but Bowman’s crew was able to get his No. 48 Chevrolet repaired in the nick of time, which allowed him to return to the race – albeit a number of laps down.
Riding around the rest of the day to try and salvage what he could, Bowman outlasted some of the other attrition that befell some of the other drivers, finishing the race in 29th – six laps down. Heading to Talladega, Bowman now sits 30 points below the cut-off line.
Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, who held the lead as the race ran deep into Stage 2, was also not immune from tire problems as he blew a tire in Turn 4 and slammed the outside wall.
After catching fire as it skidded down the frontstretch after the impact, Elliott was able to get it directed down into the infield grass before bringing it to a stop and extricating himself from his smoldering Chevrolet.
“Something came apart,” Elliott said. “I could hear it flapping in the right rear fender well. I don’t know, but if it wasn’t down, it was certainly coming apart. One of the two.
“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault. Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”
As a result of the hit, Elliott finished the race in 32nd place, erasing his regular season championship points advantage and leaving him just four points above the cut-off line.
“It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now. I hate it for our No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team. We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega (Superspeedway) try to get a win and go on down the road.”
Joining Bell and Bowman in the bottom four are Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric, who sit four and 11 points back, respectively.
Briscoe rebounded from what looked to be a bad day for the No. 14 team to finish fifth, while Cindric spun to avoid the spinning car of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on lap 301, but was still able to salvage a 15th place finish.