Saturday's motors: Cup chase at Texas more about a win than points now
Fort Worth, Texas – Chase Elliott insists he has worried less about the points situation during this NASCAR season than ever before, and that might just be the right approach for those Cup drivers still with championship hopes.
Elliott will start Sunday at Texas just below the cutoff line for the top four that will race for the title next month, even though he currently has the fourth-most points.
“It’s not that I don’t care,” Elliott said. “It does matter, but I just think the more that you understand that winning is paramount and that’s the only guarantee that moves you on.”
Like Joey Logano did last weekend at Kansas to start the final three-race playoff round, holding off Kevin Harvick for the final 40-plus laps to get a victory that took him from outside the top four to knowing he will get to race for the title Nov. 8 at Phoenix.
Of the remaining seven playoff contenders, nine-time 2020 winner Harvick is in the best spot, leading by 21 points over Denny Hamlin, 33 over Brad Keselowski and 41 over Elliott. Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, the rest of the top eight, likely have to win at Texas or Martinsville for a championship shot.
“You count points as a second move, as your backup plan, just because of the fact the thing that you can control the most of moving forward is to win the race,” Harvick said. “I think our team believes in that, and I think you have to race to win and then see where it all falls in the end. That’s what we do on a week-to-week basis and I think that mindset has really just not changed the way we that we talk about things.”
Harvick has won the last three fall races at Texas, which like Kansas is a 1 1/2-mile track but has a much different configuration, and starts on the pole Sunday. Logano is also on the front row, ahead of Keselowski and Elliott.
It’s the 36th start at Texas for Harvick and Kurt Busch, the most at the track that is hosting its 40th Cup race since 1997.
Another win in the Lone Star State for Harvick or Hamlin, also a three-time winner there, could simplify things quite a bit going to Martinsville. A win by someone already out of title contention would put several drivers in an even more precarious situation at NASCAR’s oldest and shortest track.
“Obviously, sitting on the cutoff line is not ideal, because I could have a great race and still get knocked out because somebody else wins,” said Keselowski, a four-time winner this year. “So the best thing for us to do is to go win that thing. There’s three races left in the season and simple math, if I win one of the next two and then the last one, we’ll win the championship. So I’m trying to keep it that simple.”
Harrison Burton stormed past Noah Gragson in the final turn Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway to win the Xfinity Series race and deny Gragson a spot in the championship round.
Gragson was one turn away from earning an automatic berth into the title-deciding finale but instead had to settle for a second-place finish. Gragson entered the race last in the playoff rankings, 33 points below the cutline and needing a victory to advance.
Burton won for the third time this season in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing but was eliminated from title contention in the first round.
“That’s what we came to do, to be fast and to do what we did on that last lap was incredible,” Burton said.
It was another chapter between a pair of drivers who have had conflict this season, including a scuffle post-race at Kentucky in July in which punches were thrown.
Chase Briscoe is the only driver locked into the finale at Phoenix next month. The remaining slots will be decided in next week’s elimination race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
“I felt like we had a fast car there and just frustrated at myself,” Gragson said. “Make or break your season right there, and just gave it away.”
Gragson remains 24 points below the cutline and his frustration was evident when he used profanity in a live NBC Sports Network interview.
Austin Cindric, a five-race winner this season, is second in the standings and followed by Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley.
Brandon Jones, Ross Chastain, Gragson and Ryan Sieg are all in danger of elimination at Martinsville.
Jones and Allgaier crashed out of the race in a late incident with Chastain, and Allgaier took aim at Chastain’s driving after.
“He just decides to hang a left because he’s aggravated and he wrecks the whole field,” Allgaier said. “Ross is pretty two-faced and says a lot of things outside the race car and then drives like this on the race track sometimes and it’s pretty disappointing.”
Chastain, who is being promoted to Cup next season with Chip Ganassi Racing, took full responsibility for the crash.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “I don’t deserve what I have in front of me. I don’t deserve to drive this racecar. To make those mistakes – absolutely unacceptable.”