CONCORD, N.C. – Talladega? A bigger crapshoot than Charlotte?
Might want to re-think that.
Given the strange nature of Sunday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it seems there is no safe haven for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors this season. Trouble lurked around every turn of the 1.5-mile track.
For those that have said this year's Chase has lacked any drama, this one churned it out in spades.
Five of the 12 Chase drivers limped out of CMS licking their wounds after finishes of 30th or worse. Kevin Harvick finished 38th, sidelined by the most unfortunate of circumstances. It wasn't driver error or a mistake by the pit crew. Instead it was parts breakage that silenced the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Joey Logano played tag with the outside wall and lost. He finished 36th.
Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were top-five contenders until a Lap 259 restart bottled up the field and sent both young drivers ricocheting off anything that was moving and some things that were not.
Denny Hamlin seems to be able to find new ways to fall out of contention – this one, much like Harvick's, was out of his control. Parts breakage sent a plume of smoke from underneath the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with less than 30 laps remaining and while Hamlin was running second.
"It's just my time and it's usually Chase time when I have these things happen," Hamlin lamented. He was not alone in his disappointment.
Even those who fared much better had to overcome their share of obstacles on a bright, sunny day at Charlotte.
Race runner-up Matt Kenseth was scheduled to start 17th; instead, pre-race issues with his No. 20 Toyota sent the 2003 champ to the rear before the first lap had been run. He was working his way through the field when a pit-road penalty sent Kenseth to the rear a second time.
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Teammate Kyle Busch had a tire problem at Lap 90 and lost a lap. He made it up but then scrubbed the wall. More damage followed. Somehow, he and his No. 18 team battled back to finish sixth.
"It was fast," Busch said of his Toyota. "It had speed even after we were crashed; we just needed to be in clean air."
Carl Edwards? He finished 12th even though exhaust issues led to an exhausting day.
Martin Truex Jr., winner of two races in the Round of 16 and unbelievably dominant here in May (leading all but eight laps in the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600), went from third to 16th during the eighth and final caution of the race when the clutch in his Furniture Row Racing entry decided to balk while on pit road.
That he still managed a 13th-place finish was a stroke of good fortune.
Nearly every Chase driver has spoken of the importance of Charlotte and Kansas, where getting a win, or at the very least solid finishes, would provide a bit of breathing room when the series heads to Talladega.
But as Harvick correctly noted earlier this week, trouble can strike anywhere. That certainly was the case here Sunday.
"Definitely this seems like it has been a troublesome day for a lot of guys," Elliott, who led three times for 103 laps, said. "Hopefully we can just try to have another car like we had today and not make any mistakes next week."
It's a bit of optimism and confidence shared by many hoping to advance on to the next round.
Only race winner Jimmie Johnson departed Sunday feeling fit as a fiddle, his move into the Round of 8 already guaranteed.
"It lets me go to Talladega and not worry about anything," the six-time champion said, "which is fantastic."
Others can only imagine the feeling.