Just look at the starting positions of the top five finishes in Sunday’s South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 24th, 3rd, 18th, 8th and 23rd respectively. What about sixth through 10th?
19th, 14th, 15th, 22nd and 17th respectively.
Eight of the top 10 finishers came from Row 7 on back. That’s saying something. That’s why qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s opening race of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs was a bit of fools gold.
See, the Stewart-Haas Racing cars grabbed the top four starting spots. They elected for qualifying speed in hoping that this weekend’s race on the 1.5-mile track would reward clean air. The others went for true race pace. See, this weekend was an impound race. You’d run on Sunday what you qualified on Saturday.
You can tell which strategy worked.
That’s why Kevin Harvick’s runner-up result was eye opening. He and his team made the right amount of adjustments all night to earn his third straight top four finish on the season and seventh top seven result in the last eight races.
“We always want to win, but these guys just did a great job,” Harvick said after scoring his third top four in the last four Vegas races. “We were way off when we got here this weekend and they just kept working. We qualified well, weren’t where we wanted to be when we started the race, got stage points and led there late and gave us an opportunity. I knew the Gibbs cars would be tough and Martin (Truex Jr.) was just so tough in the second half of the run. He had made up that ground and was able to stay close to us. Just a great job by our team. … I think we can do a little better going forward.”
Look at what race winner Martin Truex Jr. had to say.
“We took a gamble and qualified 24th and for a while there, it wasn’t looking too smart with the 4 (Kevin Harvick) out there in front,” said Truex. “But we got the right adjustments at the end, had a great car all day long.”
Clint Bowyer earned his first pole since 2007 and just the third of his career on Saturday but his race car was junk on Sunday. He’d come home 25th.
“We just weren’t very good tonight,” Bowyer said after his string of three straight top 10 finishes came to an end. “We were just off. Off in all areas.”
The third SHR driver in Aric Almirola is content after finishing 13th but his championship chances are looking grim. He still hasn’t finished in the top five since Phoenix back in March as his last top 10 even came at Daytona in early July.
“I am leaving content,” Almirola said. “We dug deep and I feel like we maximized our day. We had a few miscues and weren’t 100% perfect on our execution. The car wasn’t 100% perfect and we still managed to go up there and lead the race and score stage points. I think we finished third in Stage 1 and scored a fair amount of stage points. After Stage 1 we kind of lost the handle on the car and lost some track position and it because even more of a handful. We dug deep and fought hard and got out of here with a decent finish. I think they just told me we are plus-six to the good on 12th so I feel good about that. It is better than leaving minus-six or minus-16 or minus-60. I am happy with that. We will keep our heads up and keep digging. Our Smithfield Ford Mustang showed some signs of strength tonight and we just lost a little bit of the handle on it.”
As you can see, Harvick showed by he’s a legitimate championship favorite while his teammates will be lucky to make it past the Round of 12.