Here are four storylines from Sunday night’s NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
1. No. 11 is #1, for now. If the Chase started today, Denny Hamlin would be the top seed. His victory Sunday night was his second in a row, and fourth of the season. He is the only driver to win four races this year. Since the playoff seeds are based on the number of wins, Hamlin would be at the top of the list, even though he’s 7th in points overall. There are a lot of intangibles for the remaining spots in the Chase, including the wild cards. More on that in a moment.
2. Truex Wonders What Might Have Been. Here’s a guy who hasn’t won a race in five years. Yet there was Martin Truex Jr., with the laps ticking down, comfortably leading Jeff Gordon. Then the driver of the No. 56 saw the one thing he didn’t want to see: a yellow flag. It turns out Jamie McMurray smacked the wall on the front stretch to bring out the final caution. On the ensuing pit stops, Hamlin’s crew got its driver out first, and that turned out to be the difference. To say Truex must feel snake bitten is an understatement.
3. Newman takes a bit hit. After much of the race was ho-hum, there was one major accident: a three-car wreck involving Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Sam Hornish Jr. Newman took the biggest hit in the point standings as result. He must win at Richmond next week to get into the Chase.
4. Chase scenarios. It’s like the NFL playoff picture, in that there are too many possibilities to list. But here’s what it boils down to. There are some big names who have to win at Richmond just to get into the playoff. We’re talking Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman. Right now, Busch and Kasey Kahne are the two wild cards.
Next Saturday night is the final race before the Chase. I was at Richmond International Raceway last year for this race, and there was no shortage of action on the track. Expect more of that this time around.