Over at Dover for four drivers vying for championship

Rusty Jarrett/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

For Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch, the hopes of competing for the title of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion were dashed at Dover International Speedway. For Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the hopes of becoming a champion moved on after gaining stage points in the early portion of the race.

Stenhouse was able to advance to the next round by two points over Ryan Newman. If it was not for a lucky break in the first stage, it would have been Stenhouse eliminated from the playoffs. As the first cycle of green flag pit stops was underway, Stenhouse and the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team stayed out as long as they could in hopes of a caution. Luckily, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun trying to get onto the pit lane and hit the sand barriers to bring out the caution. Stenhouse was able to stay on the lead lap and gain seven stage points. Those points were crucial for him to advance to the next round. Stenhouse will be seeded in the eighth position going into the second round of the playoffs.

“We feel lucky. We caught the caution there at the right time. It paid off. We were able to get some stage points. That was the turning point of our day. It gave us a lot of buffer. We felt a little but of ease as we walked through the race. It was a battle. The first three races were not as good as what we wanted. We didn’t have fast enough cars, made too many mistakes. We reset now. We are going to give it all we got.”

Newman was unable to gain the two points he needed in order to continue on for the championship. In the closing laps, Newman was trying to stay on the lead lap, while trying his best to gain two spots to win the tiebreaker. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so and relegated to a 13th place finish.

“Well, we just weren’t good enough, as simple as that.  We didn’t have a fast-enough race car, we didn’t have the right strategy.  We qualified better, that was a plus, but these first three races were a challenge for us.  It seemed like everybody else stepped up their game and we didn’t,” said Newman.

Coming into Dover, A. Dillon was tied with Stenhouse for that cutoff position. Unfortunately, Dillon and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team struggled throughout majority of the weekend. Dillon finished in the 16th position.

“It started off pretty good. We were headed to the front and were really good on that first long run. We pitted and the caution came out. That was pretty much it. (Ricky) Stenhouse getting those stage points; we were better than him all day. It would have come down between me and the No. 31 (Ryan Newman),” said Dillon about his race at Dover.

“We decided we had to run long right there to see if a caution would come out and put everybody a lap down to get us on the same strategy Stenhouse got his points on. It stinks. But, I’m proud of my guys. They fought hard. I would have liked to have to battle down to the end with the No. 31. But, that first caution kind of killed our day right there.”

In his final attempt at winning a championship while at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne was silent through majority of the race. The biggest challenge for Kahne was finding that track position and passing cars that were running at the same speed.

“Just track position was one of the biggest challenges for us.  It was just tough… we didn’t pass really well, but had a pretty decent car, but it was a bit of a struggle to pass guys that were running the same speed, so we just kind of ran in that spot and tried to use some strategy to get up,” said Kahne. “It seemed to really work, but then on the long end of it, it didn’t work out.  Darien (Grubb, crew chief) did a good job.  The guys worked hard and that was the best we could do.”

After two damaging starts to the playoffs, Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team was “all-in” going into Dover. In the early stages of the race, there were signs of hope that Kurt Busch could have a chance to move on in the next round, but stage one performance proved once again to be the challenge.

“Just disappointed in the way that I drove through this playoff run. I was driving at 101 percent trying to make sure I got every ounce of speed out of it. It just never had a flow for three races. So, we might have finished 10th here today, and the wreck last week really put us in a hole,” said Busch about his playoff run. “We needed a perfect day today. We just never did well in stage one all year. I thought that might be our Achilles’ Heel. If we add up the numbers, that’s what it probably was. I can’t fault anybody. We ran hard. We gave everything we had. It just wasn’t enough.”

Although these four drivers will be unable to win a championship in 2017, they still can finish no worse than fifth in the driver’s points standings.  In three weeks at Kansas Speedway, four more drivers will join Newman, Dillon, Kahne, and Busch as those eliminated from the playoffs.

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