Best known for her heartbreaking fashion, the legendary Mrs. N. Black at Darlington Raceway lived up to her famous title this weekend as plenty of heavyweights in a playoff unfortunately fell victim to the Southern 500 on Sunday.
Whether due to an accident or a malfunction, the opening game of the Cup series went south for some of the sport’s biggest names, thus completely rocking the standings.
In just one race, everything changed. For drivers like Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, the pool of points earned in the regular season quickly turned into a lifeline that keeps them afloat.
Other drivers, like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, came very close to securing a goodbye in the next round, but failed.
With all the ways Darlington has cast a shadow over the disappointment of these playoff contenders, it’s essential to understand what went wrong, as each case carries repercussions that may haunt these drivers for the remainder of the first round.
* Defending NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson was the first big name to face adversity. Early engine problems forced Larson to stop several green marks halfway through the first stage. His crew quickly resolved the issue, but with green flag conditions around them, Larson was back on the track three laps. For Larson and Team #5, they turned a seemingly disastrous moment into a respectable day, as they came home in twelfth place, above nine other drivers.
*Larson Hendrik Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott wasn’t quite as lucky. With only two rounds left in the first stage, Elliott lost control of entering the corner and took off. When his car skidded onto the track, fellow match driver Chase Briscoe rounded up. When his Chevy was limp from heels, driving tilted from suspension damage, it was clear that Elliott was in big trouble. Even with the 10-minute damaged car policy watch in qualifying, there was no salvage for Elliott.
He retired from racing and came home with last place, effectively wiping out the advantage he had with his impressive stockpile of playoff points accumulated during the regular season. Elliott is still 14 points above the cut-off line, and remains the tournament favorite in terms of betting odds. However, the margin of error is a small fraction of what it used to be going forward. Another mistake, whether it was his own doing, someone else’s, or a mechanical issue, could cause the regular-season champion to find himself facing an elimination match much sooner than everyone expected.
* As for Briscoe, he managed to finish the race, but his car was not what it was. He finished his playoff in 27th and headed to Kansas, 10 points behind the most important twelfth place in the standings.
*While Elliott may have been the biggest shocker of all the drama, Kyle Bush was the biggest heartbreak. After teammate Martin Truex Jr. retired from the lead with water-pumping issues, Bosch looked ready to start qualifying with a big win. As he prepared for the final reboot just 25 laps ago, his jaw dropped when the camera inside the car showed an ugly scene of smoke starting to emerge from the Bosch car.
Within moments, he went from champion to zero, as his chances of winning rose with his engine, which saw him finish 30th. What could have been a ticket to the round of 12 would go down as a major setback for Bush, who needs all the momentum he can get as he approaches his much-anticipated free agency this season.
* Bosch wasn’t the only driver who saw his qualifying hopes hurt by a mechanical failure. Kevin Harvick had a top 10 run before his car caught fire on lap 277. After the race, Harvick shared his hostility to the conditions surrounding his early retirement at night.
“I’m sure it’s just bad race car parts like we’ve seen so many times,” Harvick said. “They didn’t fix anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it go and keep going and the car started burning and when it caught fire, flames started pouring through the dash of the car.”
With NASCAR’s new spec regulations, Harvick’s misfortune can be described as a growing pain, to say the least. However, Harvick has every right to be upset considering he had to face this problem in the playoffs. His 33rd place finish landed him last in the standings, 13 points off the cut-off line.
* Finalizing the day of disappointments was Trackhouse Racing in its first playoff. Daniel Suarez and Team #99 came out of the ball carrier behind the eight ball as they failed their pre-race check three times. After sending a penalty pass to start the race, Suarez made his way back up on the first lap and then finished 10th soon after. Despite overcoming all of this, Suarez still couldn’t get a break because a speeding penalty kick on the road on lap 281 trapped him in a lap. With not enough time to recover, Suarez came home in 18th place.
Ross Chastain and the rest of Trackhouse couldn’t fare better either. After running in the top five, Chastain had to stop several times under the green. What was initially thought to be a loose wheel turned into damaged engine pins. To make his night even more frustrating, the damage seemed to come from the wreck, rendering him helpless amid its demise. He came home in 20th place, just 15 points off the finish line.
With 8 of 16 drivers in the playoffs, they finished 15The tenth Or worse, Sunday’s opening game was a far cry from normal. This is the time of year when the best talent in the sport is expected to take off and put on a show.
Unfortunately, Lady In Black had other plans on Sunday and left a lot of drivers with bad taste in their mouths in this weekend’s second race of qualifying at Kansas Speedway.
As much as the drivers might not like, things are just getting started for the fans. The tighter the breakout picture, the more exciting it is, and with so much happening in just one race, there’s no next.
Love it or hate it, playoff races are throat-cutting, nerve-wracking and, at times, heart-breaking. It creates a level of suspense and drama that only exists in sports, and keeps fans coming back every week to see how the story unfolds.
The Darlington Southern 500 was simply the first chapter in a 10-part series that would crown the champ at the end of the season in Phoenix.
If last Sunday night is any indication, this is going to be a crazy playoff, where no one is safe and anyone can come out victorious.