NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Tops Late Restart; Earns Second Win

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Tops Late Restart; Earns Second Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick may have dominated Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, but it was Chase Elliott who took advantage of others' problems to come out on top in an overtime finish. The win was his second of the season and assures his spot among the final eight championship contenders to relieve him of the pressure other playoff contenders will feel heading to Talladega Superspeedway this week. Elliott led just 11 of the race's 404 laps, but the final one could have been the most important of his season so far.

Two races remain in the second round of playoffs, and drivers coming out of Dover with work to do include Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. Both Bowyer and Almirola looked likely to exit Dover with their playoff hopes in good stead, but late problems dropped both into the danger zone ahead of Talladega. All but Elliott will now look to the second race of the second round of playoffs with a bit of dread as the unknowns of restrictor-plate racing will impact their ability to advance in the championship battle.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – By remaining consistent and continuing to fight throughout the afternoon, Chase became the first driver to guarantee his spot among the final eight championship contenders. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was not the fastest car through the weekend but did enough to stay in contact with the sharp end of the field. That effort paid off, as he was able to take advantage

Kevin Harvick may have dominated Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, but it was Chase Elliott who took advantage of others' problems to come out on top in an overtime finish. The win was his second of the season and assures his spot among the final eight championship contenders to relieve him of the pressure other playoff contenders will feel heading to Talladega Superspeedway this week. Elliott led just 11 of the race's 404 laps, but the final one could have been the most important of his season so far.

Two races remain in the second round of playoffs, and drivers coming out of Dover with work to do include Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. Both Bowyer and Almirola looked likely to exit Dover with their playoff hopes in good stead, but late problems dropped both into the danger zone ahead of Talladega. All but Elliott will now look to the second race of the second round of playoffs with a bit of dread as the unknowns of restrictor-plate racing will impact their ability to advance in the championship battle.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – By remaining consistent and continuing to fight throughout the afternoon, Chase became the first driver to guarantee his spot among the final eight championship contenders. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was not the fastest car through the weekend but did enough to stay in contact with the sharp end of the field. That effort paid off, as he was able to take advantage of late restarts and track position to claim his second win of the season to solidify a spot among the final eight drivers eligible to win the championship. Now he has no worries about what may happen at Talladega, but his two top-fives there will still give him confidence to continue to build on his current momentum.

Kevin Harvick – Working hard to make sure he gets a spot in the next round of the playoffs before next week's race at Talladega, Harvick shot out from the green flag to dominate the race and win both opening stages. A loose wheel put him behind the lead pack, and he didn't have enough time to get his way back into the lead position. Still, he walked away from the day with bonus points from stage victories and a top finish when other playoff drivers had problems. That combination should give him a boost as he tries to join the final eight. Harvick's lone Talladega win came in 2010. He started on pole and finished fourth there earlier this season. That was his first top-five at the track since 2011.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin may not have made it out of the first round of playoffs, but showed that he still has plenty to race for this season. He remains winless in 2018, but was in contention for the victory at Dover. Hamlin has taken too much time to get up to speed to keep his championship fight alive, but may be coming on strong enough in the final weeks of the season to win before the season is over. Dover was his second top-five in the last five races, and he's showing more competitiveness in recent weeks than he did at the start of the season. He does have one Talladega victory to his credit, and with four consecutive top-15s in the last four visits, fantasy owners should pay attention to him this week.

Erik Jones – The trials Jones saw in the past few races that ended his championship run may propel him to be a serious championship contender in the future. One point of proof would be his Dover race. He wasn't the fastest car on the weekend, but he kept his nose clean and took advantage of that to grab a nice top finish. That type of experience, when applied properly, separates the championship contenders from the rest. This week's test at Talladega will be a true measure of how far he has come after being eliminated from championship contention. He hasn't finished in the top 30 in any of his three Cup starts at the track, and another top finish would set him up for an excellent finish to the season.

DOWNGRADE

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer's wave of momentum continued right on through Dover. He successfully navigated the opening round of the playoffs, and started the current round with a top performance in Dover. Bowyer was quick throughout practice, and was one of the few drivers able to get close to Harvick during Sunday's 400 laps. However, the day didn't end as well as it started, as problems began to mount. Running in contention late in the race, he suffered a failure that dropped him completely from contention after clouting the outside wall. Despite the uncertainties, Bowyer must be optimistic about this week's race at Talladega. He has two track wins in 25 career starts. However, he has crashed out of the last two races there.

Kyle Larson – Larson squeaked into the second round of the playoffs by digging deep in Charlotte, but things did not go his way in Dover. Despite leading the final practice, Larson was behind the pace once the racing got underway. He struggled to stay on the lead lap throughout the race distance, and a speeding penalty on pit road in the final stage made circumstances even more challenging. Circumstances in the final laps of the race enabled him to move into the top 15, but that was a bit more than the No. 42 team probably shouldn't have expected, given their trials that afternoon. This week may be another challenge for him and the team since he has yet to score a top-five at Talladega in the Cup series.

Kyle Busch – Sunday's race at Dover was not the type of outing we've come to expect from Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team this season. He was not on par with Harvick and suffered a number of challenges throughout the race including a suspected track bar malfunction. He spent extra time on pit road in the final segment under caution, ensuring that things were functioning properly, which put him behind in terms of track position. His ultimate finishing position was boosted by the trouble of other contenders ahead of him, but it wasn't representative of how the car actually performed throughout the distance. Next week is another chance, though. Busch has one Talladega win, and finished 13th in his most recent visit.

Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski could be the sleeper choice to make it through to Homestead in championship contention. The Penske Racing driver's momentum has just seemed to continue building each week, and the team is truly on their game right now. Unfortunately, he collided with Aric Almirola on a late restart, which effectively ruined his chances of a top finish. It was a disappointing end, but the team can remain confident given their pace throughout the weekend. He was a top contender in Sunday afternoon's race and has one of the better records at Talladega, too. He has an impressive five wins at the track in the Cup series but crashed there earlier this season after leading 21 laps.

Jimmie Johnson – Matters got worse for Johnson week to week. Just seven days after spectacularly crashing out of the playoffs, the No. 49 team suffered a suspension failure on the pace laps before the race actually started. It had already been a difficult week for the team after being so close to victory in Charlotte, but now not even taking the initial green flag will come as a huge blow to the organization. Despite his playoff hopes being gone, Johnson will still be looking for opportunities to run competitively and challenge for a win. The work will help the team get ready for next season, but after struggling for so many seasons, the mountain they must climb almost seems to be growing.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Aric Almirola – Almirola was poised to have another career week to score his second career win, this time in Dover. After making it into the second round of the playoffs, Almirola pieced together a stunning performance to be out front late in Sunday's race at Dover. Late cautions threw a monkey wrench into his plans, though. Pushing hard to make up for poor track position meant overdriving the car and causing a big accident that took away his chances of a win and jumbled the running order for other top drivers caught in the carnage. His only previous career win came on the superspeedway at Daytona, and at Talladega he has two top-fives and five top-10s from 17 career starts. Dover will be a hard pill for him to swallow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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