March 4th, 2015
A lot went down Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. From shocking wrecks which took two champions and a driver having a career year out of the race prematurely to a not-so-surprising finish – there is plenty to discuss following the opening race in the Contender Round.
I had high hopes for Jimmie Johnson coming into the day. He has quietly been putting up impressive performances over the past few weeks. He has also been working up to a breakout run that would propel him right into the middle of the championship battle. All of this went out the window on Lap 86 when contact from Greg Biffle sent him spinning and crashing down the backstretch.
This left many questioning how much farther the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team will make it in the playoffs. Although the possibility exists that won’t climb out of this hole, it’s highly unlikely.
We’re talking about the six-time champion who understands what it takes succeed in the final ten races. He will surely bounce back next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he eyes the season sweep.
The biggest shock of the race came when Dale Earnhardt Jr. slammed the Turn 4 wall on Lap 123 while leading the race. I glanced up at the television just as this occurred and my jaw dropped. No one expected this from a team that was having their best run in weeks.
This places the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet team in a tough position. Through all of 2014, they haven’t faced the amount of pressure that awaits them in the coming weeks. By winning the Daytona 500, they had a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup locked up right from the get-go and never faced the stress of needing a win.
I’m not saying they aren’t capable of handing pressurized situations. I’m just not sure how they respond to critical circumstances and that will be answered next weekend.
They will need to work on bouncing back in a big way while managing an anxiety level that will be shooting through the roof. The results will be very telling as they have the potential to determine this team’s fate in the remaining Chase races.
Last but not least is the top-seeded driver in the Chase – Brad Keselowski. Rarely this year has the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team been behind the wall. However, that’s exactly where they found themselves after Lap 161. This definitely increases the difficulty of the round for the team. If they can come back next weekend and repeat their performances from the Challenger Round – everything will turn out fine.
There’s not much to say about the conclusion of the Hollywood Casino 400. It seems as it was a replay of previous finishes from this season as Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson dueled it out for the trophy. Harvick ended up with a potential problem that forced him to pit late, Larson came close, but couldn’t seal the deal and Logano claimed the checkered-flag. This story has played out multiple times throughout the year and will likely show up again in the final six races.
Now the focus shifts to Charlotte. Morales will be high as it’s a homecoming for just about everyone in the industry. A victory here means a lot, and with the added bonus of a spot in the Eliminator Round everyone will be hungry to reach the winners circle. Charlotte is one of my favorite stops on the schedule and there should be plenty of excitement next weekend.