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Overreaction OR Not? NASCAR Playoff Reactions after Race 1

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Joshua Lipowski

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The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway opened the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on Sunday night, and Playoff drivers were truly the stars of the show. Some drivers were in the headlines for good reasons, and others for bad reasons. People may have their own hot takes following this race at Darlington, but, are they overreactions?

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Overreaction: Martin Truex Jr. Is In Trouble

Sunday was an off-night for Martin Truex Jr. He started 31st, finished 18th, and scored zero stage points. It was his worst finish at an intermediate race track since he finished 31st at Darlington back in May.

However, he still sits 25 points above the cut-line in sixth place in the points standings. Kansas is coming up this weekend, which is a track that he finished eighth at in the spring, and one more good race puts him in a good position heading into Bristol. This was just one off-night, and there is no reason to think this will be a pattern.

Not an Overreaction: Chris Buescher is a Championship Contender

An eighth-place qualifying run only led to two stage points, but, Buescher kept his nose clean on Sunday night. In the end, he finished a solid third as he held off William Byron. Not only had Buescher won three of the last five races heading into the Playoffs, but they all came on very different race tracks, which helped him for some of the elimination races at places like Bristol and the Charlotte Roval.

However, a third place at an intermediate gives him some confidence for the other intermediate tracks in the Playoffs, of which there are five. The 17 team is firing on all cylinders, and they have a legitimate shot at winning the Cup Series Championship.

Overreaction: The Christopher Bell Pit Crew Swap Was a Mistake

Christopher Bell’s race on Sunday was like a snowball. A pit crew miscue on the first pit stop set him back some, but contact with the wall put him further behind. From there, he was playing catch-up, and, it all started because of a pit road mistake.

The microscope is squarely on the 20 pit crew because of the swap with Ty Gibbs’ pit crew, but, Sunday was not all on them. It is also only one race, and Bell is still above the cut line. However, if these mistakes continue, and the moments get bigger, then the team may warrant some scrutiny.

Not an Overreaction: Michael McDowell is in Trouble

Despite a good qualifying run, Michael McDowell was a non-factor on Sunday night. He scored no stage points, and he finished 32nd, the lowest of all Playoff drivers, after being involved in a late crash. This left him in 16th place 19 points below the cut-line.

McDowell and Front Row Motorsports have struggled on intermediates this season with only one top-10 finish coming at Gateway. Another intermediate follows in Kansas, and Bristol is the final track of the first round, where McDowell has never finished better than 10th. He is behind, and the tracks coming up do not favor him.

Overreaction: Kevin Harvick is a Championship Contender

Kevin Harvick was a race-win contender before an untimely caution caused him to be penalized for pitting while pit road was closed. Before then, it looked like it might be his night. Now, how far can this momentum carry?

Harvick has shown flashes at various times this season, but he has failed to win a race. His best finish came at Darlington in the spring where he finished second. This could have been a flash-in-the-pan performance or it could be the start of a great run. Either way, it is only one race, and, the performance of SHR makes it tough to put Harvick in a Championship winning position.

Not an Overreaction: Bubba Wallace Can Make A Deep Run

After sneaking his way into the Playoffs at Daytona, Bubba Wallace quietly brought home a seventh-place finish at Darlington. Given the fact that he had no Playoff points heading into the Playoffs, many pegged Wallace as a driver who would not make it out of round one. He currently sits in 13th place, one point below the cut-line.

Coming up, Wallace has Kansas, where he won last year. He also has Talladega in round two, where he won in 2021. He is not a favorite by any means, but, things are lining up to where there is a path for Wallace to make a deep Playoff run. A solid run at Darlington only solidifies his confidence.

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Conclusion

Time will tell how these Playoff storylines work out. Which overreactions will come out of the race at Kansas this weekend?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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