5 Lessons Learned: The Chase Is All But Settled

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By Jared Turner

  1. Joe Gibbs Racing Is Still The Team To Beat

Just when you thought Joe Gibbs Racing couldn’t be any more dominant, think again. With Carl Edwards win in the Bojangles’ Southern 500, a JGR driver has now gone to Victory Lane in seven of the past 10 races. At Darlington, JGR drivers accounted for three of the top seven finishing positions, with Denny Hamlin (third) and Kyle Busch (seventh) joining race winner Edwards in the top 10. So can the JGR juggernaut be stopped? Don’t count on it happening this weekend at Richmond, a track where Hamlin and Busch both have multiple wins and always arrive as favorites to pull in Victory Lane. Edwards and JGR’s Matt Kenseth are also past Richmond winners, with one victory each.

2. Darlington Is Still “Tough Tough To Tame”

Darlington Raceway certainly lived up to its longstanding nickname – the track “Too Tough To Tame” – in the Bojangles’ Southern 500. In taking 4, hours, 28 minutes to complete, Darlington surpassed even the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to become the longest race of the 2015 season in terms of actual time spent on track. Of course, the No. 1 contributing factor to the lengthiness of the race was a Darlington-record 18 caution flags that slowed the race for a whopping 89 laps. As is almost always the case at “The Lady in Black,” drivers had to race the track first and foremost, and the end result was far more encounters with the concrete than are typical for most venues.

3. Pit Stops Were The Difference

As is often the case, Sunday’s race at Darlington basically came down to a late caution and pit stop that set the stage for the final run to the checkered flag. With Brad Keselowski seemingly cruising toward a victory after dominating the event in which he led 196 of 367 laps, everything changed on Lap 356 when Jeb Burton spun in Turn 1. With all the leaders hitting pit road for one final pit stop in which they took each took on four fresh tires, Carl Edwards, beat Keselowski off pit road to take the lead for the final restart with eight laps remaining, and cruised to his first victory at the venerable egg-shaped oval.

4. The Chase Is All But Settled

Barring something really unusual and unexpected happening on Saturday night at Richmond, the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup field appears to be locked in. While the first 11 drivers are set to make the Chase based on having one or more wins this season, the final five drivers in position to advance are set to do so based on where they sit in the standings. Currently holding the 16th and final playoff spot is winless Clint Bowyer, who is 29 points ahead of Aric Almirola. Unless a winless driver in the top 30 in points wins for the first time this season, or Bowyer has an uncharacteristically bad night while Almirola has a really good one, nothing will change among the Chase-bound drivers.

5. Hendrick Can’t Find Its Mojo

Those expecting Hendrick Motorsports to break out of its recent funk at Darlington, a track where the organization has enjoyed major success over the years, left the South Carolina facility highly disappointed. While the Hendrick organization failed to place a single driver in the top five, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske continued their recent dominance of the sport’s premier series by sweeping the top four finishing positions. Best among the Hendrick bunch at the checkered flag was eighth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was followed further down the order by teammates Kasey Kahne (12th), Jeff Gordon (16th) and Jimmie Johnson (19th). While it’s too early to rule out a Hendrick title, things certainly aren’t trending well for the organization with the Chase just one race away.

 

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