Determining The Dozen Got A Little Bit Ugly

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 30 2019
Turn 1 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road circuit took a big toll on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Pope)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Entering Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, seven drivers were within 26 points of one another in the playoffs. But their quest to gain access to the Round of 12 was more akin to a ping-pong match as they constantly bounced in-and-out of the playoffs during the event.  

In the cutoff race, a six-car wreck on lap 23 eliminated Erik Jones. 

Kurt Busch was involved in the same accident, but continued. On lap 99, another multi-car wreck involved Busch, leaving him 20th at the finish.   

 Alex Bowman and Ryan Newman probably experienced the most nail-biting day as they constantly bounced back-and-forth, first in and then out of the playoffs. 

Entering the race, Bowman was 13th and Newman was ninth in the standings with a 14-point separation. During preparations for the event, Bowman initially appeared to have the upper hand. He qualified second while Newman was 24th fastest. Then during Saturday’s final practice Bowman spun and hit the wall, forcing him to go to a backup car, relinquish his front-row starting position and move to 32nd on the grid.

“Before the race started I talked to him,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, you’ll be good, just do your thing.  Don’t worry about the car, you’ll be good.’  

“He carries a lot of weight on his shoulders, a lot of pressure, and we try to help him all we can because he wants it so bad.  He was beating himself up about wrecking a car with 30 seconds left in practice.” 

 For the 26-year-old Bowman, the race didn’t start much better. He was involved in the turn one multi-car incident that eliminated Jones. Then in the second stage a duel with Bubba Wallace resulted in him spinning Wallace in turn 12. 

 “I don’t know if he was mad about the first lap or what, but, obviously, that was just a mistake,” Bowman said. “Then I got flipped off for every single straightaway on the entire race track for three laps.  I got flipped off by him for like three or four laps in a row at Richmond, so I’m just over it.

“I’ve just got to stand up for myself at some point, right? (He) probably wouldn’t have gotten wrecked if he had his finger back in the car.”

  At that time it appeared, Bowman was out of the playoffs and Newman would advance. But in the race’s final stage the complexion changed. 

First, Newman’s Ford stalled as he left his pit during the seventh caution period. He restarted the race in 17th, while Bowman received the green flag in ninth.  

Then a multi-car accident in turn six with 16 laps remaining triggered the eighth of 10 caution periods and left Newman’s car damaged. Bowman lined up eighth at the end of that caution period while Newman remained outside the top 10. 

Newman was involved in another multi-car accident with 10 laps remaining. That incident in turn eight resulted in a red flag for 8 minutes 22 seconds.

When the final caution period ended on lap 104 of the 109-lap race, Bowman was sixth and Newman was 17th, nursing a battered race car.  

Bowman immediately mounted a charge that took him to second. Newman, meanwhile, found himself engaged in a torrid battle with playoff contender Aric Almirola. With Bowman running second, Newman couldn’t allow Almirola to pass him. If he did, he would be out of the playoffs. 

It was an incident with less than three laps remaining that ended Newman’s playoff hopes. He and Almirola were exchanging sheet metal in a chicane when Newman failed to remain in the boundary lines designated by NASCAR. Newman continued, but NASCAR ruled he should have served the missed chicane penalty and dropped him to a 32nd-place finish. That eliminated Newman from the playoffs. Almirola also was eliminated.

“I felt like I made a lot of mistakes trying too hard,” said Newman, who sat beside his car while he and one of his daughters poured water on him after the race.

“We did not have the race car and that’s what I had to do.  I felt like we were in a position at one point and then just kept trying too hard trying to keep the 10 car (Almirola) behind us and missed the curbs.”

When asked about the chicane rule, Newman responded, “I really don’t like this race track at all, so asking me about the chicane is not gonna narrow it down.”

The unseasonal 90-degree temperatures sent drivers and crew members to the infield care center after the event. Bowman sat down by his car after he exited it. He and Michael McDowell, who missed Friday’s first practice due to a kidney stone, were both taken to the infield care center where they were treated and released.

“I was really sick Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Saturday,” Bowman said. “Felt a little better today, but just really behind on being hydrated and just kind of exhausted.  Was tired, everything was real tingly, so not a great feeling inside a race car. “Got some fluids and, hopefully, feeling better.”

Wallace didn’t let Bowman’s medical contention immediately after the race quell his anger. He went to Bowman’s car and there was a brief confrontation between the two. Wallace then threw a drink in Bowman’s face while he was seated on the ground. He then turned and stormed off while Bowman received attention from medical personnel.

“He don’t like to race. He just runs over everybody,” Wallace told NASCAR.com. “He gets to lap one and he runs over me and the 3 (Austin Dillon) into the back chicane. We’re back there in the trunk, man. Just take it easy for a lap. He had a fast car and he just run over us. Shoot us through the chicane and then we get a penalty for it. Every time he gets to me, he just runs over me.

“Smooth move of playing the sick card so I couldn’t bust him in his mouth.”

In addition to runner-up Bowman and race winner Chase Elliott, the other drivers advancing to the Round of 12 are Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. The second round of the playoffs begins Sunday at Dover with the Round of Eight being determined at Kansas. The final four that will race for the championship at Homestead will be set at Phoenix. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 30 2019
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