As Ricky Stenhouse Jr wins at Daytona, the playoff picture gets a little foggier

Not many questions regarding the playoff picture were answered on this CHAOTIC Daytona night. What we do know? Ricky Stenhouse and Roush Fenway Racing is a real restrictor plate threat. We also know that Clint Bowyer, who finished second, is still incredibly consistent. Although he hasn’t grabbed a win yet this year, he sure has turned some heads and opened some eyes. The second place finish puts him 15th in the playoff standings, he will have to race his behind off to stay there.

Joey Logano. After winning the 2015 Daytona 500, Joey solidified his presence as a restrictor player racer. Such a statement was not reinforced after Kyle Busch had a right front tire go down and spun over the nose of Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch was then t-boned by the bright yellow 22 car and Joey’s day was done. He sits 3 points out of the top 16 in points. 

Almost teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones were setting up for a good finish late in the race until contact with Jamie McMurray sent them both spinning on the backstretch, both of their days went over a speed bump. Jones recovered to 9th and Hamlin landed in 24th.

Heading into his final full time cup start at Daytona Dale Jr was facing tons of pressure. After he had a tire go down in the tri-oval, followed by an aggressive tap going into turn one early on in the race, his day looked to be done. But he got back on the lead lap and fought all the way back up to 6th. His day was looking up, you could almost see a light in the cloud floating over the 88 machine. Then Kevin Harvick blew a tire and swept up the 88 machine. His day was over. Many fans were disappointed but none more than Dale Jr himself, this was the final race at the track that he and his late father dominated at. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, Dale Jr couldn’t live up to the hype and he couldn’t add one more win to the Earnhardt column and likely never will. 

On a lighter note, Ricky Stenhouse finds his way back into victory lane. Such a feat has rejuvenated and revitalized Stenhouse’s career. Stenhouse has voiced his interest in having a Joey Logano-like career. Have a rough few beginning years followed by hardly paralled domination. On an even lighter note, Ricky Stenhouse victories may be the only chance Danica Patrick has to visit victory lane. Many questions about her ability to perform have begun to pop up recently. Even rumors about this being her last season have surfaced. Is this Danica’s last season in cup?

To summarize the playoff picture, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, and Jamie McMurray are safe inside the top 16. Hamlin, Bowyer, and Kenseth sit right on the inside hoping for a smooth ride into Chicagoland speedway. Drivers Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Trevor Bayne are all right outside the top 16 scratching at the door begging to be let in. It’s going to be a wild final 9 races before the playoffs.

Dale Jr wins the pole at Daytona

This is the last time Dale Jr will win the pole at the Daytona summer race as a full time cup driver. Let that sink in for a minute. No really, after tomorrow night, we may never see Dale Jr race at Daytona ever again. Now yes maybe he’ll race in the Clash at Daytona next year, or even in a 500 or Coke 400 down the road, but it will never be the same. Dale Jr has raced in the cup series for 19 years, he’s collected 26 cup wins in that time period and that’s not anything to scoff at. He will leave a gap in this sport. A gap that Chase Elliot must fill.

Who’s going to miss the playoffs?

The battle to make the playoffs is heating up. Drivers have only 10 more races to secure their spot as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Daytona. Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Jamie McMurray, and Trevor Bayne are all fighting for one of the final 6 remaining spots in the playoffs. They can’t all fit.

Busch, Elliot, Hamlin, and McMurray are all but locked in, although, a surprise win at a place like Daytona could spoil one their parties. Such an upset could easily come from Trevor Bayne. Not only did Bayne win the Daytona 500 in 2011 but also, his team Rousch Fenway Racing has shown tremendous speed at restrictor plate races recently. In fact, the RFR stable is almost a favorite to win, especially after Ricky Stenhouse Jr narrowly defeated a sullen Kyle Busch at Talledega earlier this season.

Another upset win could be nabbed by Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones at places like Kentucky, Michigan, or Indianapolis. Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing have shown a lot of speed at these tracks recently and these young guns could steal a W. Suarez and Jones have an incredible amount of talent, but will they be able to dig their way out of their points hole?

Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer sit just inside the top 16. One bad race could push them out. That’s where NASCAR veteran and champion Matt Kenseth sits right now. All three drivers could easily grab a win before the playoffs start. They all drive for some of the hottest teams in NASCAR right now. Logano and Bowyer have a knack for places like Daytona, Logano is even racing in the Xfinity series race Friday night. It would be a real surprise of one of these guys to miss the playoffs but it might just happen.

The playoff picture might be clear as day after the Coke 400 at Daytona, or it could be as clear as mud. that is the nature of restrictor plate tracks. Only time will tell who makes and who misses the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Although I can tell you it’s going to be a wild final 10 races.

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