1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick was fourth on Sunday night. He still leads the series in wins with seven even though he’s not the points leader. He’ll have to hope for Kyle Busch to have some misfortune at Indianapolis on Sunday and have a great race himself to earn five extra points for winning the regular season.
“For us, we just could not make the front end of our car work all night and everything we did to try to help it just undid the back and just never could get it right,” Harvick said. “Track position was bigger here than I’ve ever seen, so we all got to figure that out as a sport.”
Oh boy. It’s never any good when track position is an important quality at a track with significant tire wear.
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Busch finished three spots behind Harvick at Darlington. If neither Harvick nor Busch win a stage or the race Sunday and they finish 1-2 in the standings like they are, each will start the playoffs with 50 points. That’s nearly a full race’s worth of bonus points. Martin Truex Jr. started the 2017 playoffs with 53 points.
“We never are very good here,” Busch said. “I don’t know what the problem is. Just fought a lot of things and tried to make the most of the effort. We made some good changes on pit road, but just nothing there at the end could free us up for the short run to make our Camry very fast.”
Busch has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 14 Darlington starts.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3): Truex, the third of the big three this season, was third among them on Sunday. He finished 11th after failing to get back into contention following an uncontrolled tire penalty on pit road. That 11th-place finish continues a crazy streak for Truex this season. He has 15 finishes in the top 5 and no finishes from 6th-10th.
4. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10): Keselowski is the newest driver to be considered the fourth wheel. His win at Darlington wasn’t a showcase of true speed. That showcase was all Kyle Larson’s. But there are times when a pit stop determines the outcome of a race and Darlington was one of those instances. Keselowski got out in clean air over the final laps and Larson couldn’t mount a challenge.
Keselowski said he braced for a speeding penalty after that final pit stop because he pushed so hard to beat Larson off pit road.
“Yeah, I was watching Kyle’s crew, and I think our pit stop was just a ‑‑ it couldn’t have been a hair faster,” Keselowski said. “It was just enough, and I got out of the box and I just hit the perfect launch, and I probably gained four or five feet just by executing the launch out of the box, and I got right up beside him. You’re looking at him, and then you’re looking at your tach or whatever that electronic crap is, and you’re looking at all of it, and you’re trying to maximize it to be perfect, and oh, I hope I wouldn’t speeding. That was what I was saying as soon as I got to the line, I think I got him by half a foot, and you’re just waiting, oh, here comes the speeding penalty, here it comes, here it comes, and the second the spotter keys the radio for that first time, you like cringe, and then he said, ‘okay, 19 to go.’ You’re like, man, that’s like waiting for your death sentence, and it didn’t come. So I’m thankful for that.”
5. Kurt Busch (LW: 4): Kurt Busch finished sixth on Sunday night. That’s his seventh-straight top-10 finish. If he keeps that up he’ll have a great chance to sneak into the final round of the playoffs. Especially when he salvages days like he did Sunday night. Busch had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a clogged grille and had to make up a lap.
“We’ve got sixth through tenth covered,” Busch said. “We had a good car, we just got pinned a lap down with 80 miles to go and that’s happened to me a lot here. We just end up on the wrong sequence and we got pinned a lap down. Then we had some overheating issues. I guess our grille screen – there’s an outer and an inner – and the inner got clogged, so we had to come in.”
6. Chase Elliott (LW: 5): Elliott finished a spot ahead of Busch in his yellow throwback car. Much like Busch, Elliott is on a nice run of top-10 finishes. Darlington was his sixth-straight top-10 and he’s finished in the top five in four of those races.
7. Joey Logano (LW: 7): Logano raced ahead of Larson during the race’s final stretch and ended up finishing second. It’s the first time Team Penske has finished 1-2 since Richmond in 2017. Hopefully for Keselowski and Logano’s sake there are no post-race penalties. Logano lost that win at Richmond last year because of an inspection failure and ended up missing the playoffs.
8. Kyle Larson (LW: 11): Would Larson have won the race had he restarted first instead of second on the final restart? It’s very possible.
“You know, that was the first time [Keselowski] was out front all race long,” Larson said. “He showed that he was really fast in clean air. But yeah, I think if I could have been the control car for that restart ‑‑ he beat me by just a nose off of pit road and kind of won the race. I was really loose in traffic behind those guys trying to run hard. But I was loose. Even when I’d catch lap traffic, I’d get extremely loose. Something about the dirty air here this weekend affected the balance I felt like a little bit more than normal.”
9. Erik Jones (LW: 6): Jones started eighth, finished seventh and scored the fourth-most points of anyone at Darlington. That means he stayed in the top 10 for pretty much the entire race.
10. Denny Hamlin (LW: 12): Hamlin started first, led the first 11 laps and … that’s it. He finished 10th. He just simply hasn’t been a factor in 2018 even though he’s had a very respectable season.
11. Ryan Blaney (LW: 9): Blaney was just off all weekend. He finished 15th and didn’t challenge for the top 10.
12. You pick: Clint Bowyer crashed into Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson had an engine problem. Both Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman were pedestrian.
The Lucky Dog: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 12th
The DNF: Joey Gase went crashing off Kyle Busch’s bumper.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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