Martin Truex Jr. once again proved he’s the driver to beat in the Chase through the first three races with his second win in the playoffs at Dover. However, the Monster Mile was not as kind to other Chase contenders as Chip-Ganassi Racing saw both of its drivers eliminated.
Both Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson had their fate sealed well before the final lap in Dover. While the two-car team joined both Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher on the outside looking in heading into Charlotte, it was a crushing blow more so for Larson, who had a win and was inside the top 12 before Sunday’s race.
“Nice little Christmas present for Austin [Dillon] there by both Ganassi cars,” Larson said after the race. “Our Target Chevy’s been good every week, so we’ll go out and try to win some races. … With all my bad luck in my career, I don’t know what I’ve got to do. Just stay positive and we’ll come back next year and look for a championship.”
Larson’s issues started early on when he had too many pit crew members over the wall during a stop. He then slammed into the wall and ultimately dropped three laps behind then race leader Kyle Busch by Lap 50. McMurray followed his teammate to the end of the leaderboard with an engine issue, which ultimately led to him dropping to 40th and finishing the race in the garage.
As Larson eluded, the driver who benefited the most from CGR’s misfortune was Austin Dillon. The lone Richard Childress Racing driver in the Chase moved to 12th in points and will have three more races in his pursuit for a championship.
Despite not earning a top 10 through the first two races, Dillon rose to the occasion after CGR floundered with an eighth-place finish at Dover. With Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega coming up — tracks where he averaged a seventh-place result this season — Dillon is ready to make some noise in the second round of the Chase.
“It’s time to knock some more of these guys out because we’ve got this opportunity,” Dillon said. “I want to say that we’re going to be the underdog in this next round, so let’s go do it.”
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart’s career will come to an end at Homestead-Miami without a shot at a title. Smoke put together a remarkable final season despite missing the start of the year with a back injury, but he couldn’t quite muster the results in the first round to advance.
Well didn’t make it past round1 but very proud of my team. Mike and my guys are doing a great job. Clint’s going to have a lot of fun in ’17
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) October 3, 2016
With Clint Bowyer taking over the No. 14 ride next season, Stewart-Haas Racing still has a trio of championship-caliber drivers when it moves to Ford. But without Stewart behind the wheel, NASCAR loses yet another legendary driver when the 2017 Daytona 500 rolls around.