The first cutdowns of these NASCAR playoffs come after Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway, but the storylines are more expansive than that. Some observations from Friday at Dover:
▪ Kyle Busch led the first two rounds of qualifying Friday, but Martin Truex Jr. edged him at the end and stole pole for Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover. Truex’s speed of 160.664 mph earned him his second pole. The remainder of the top five are Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, and Daniel Suarez.
▪ Drivers didn’t escape questions about the ongoing protests during the national anthem, but they were hesitant – and prickly – about stating their feelings on the issue. Owner Richard Childress made waves when he said any driver of his who protested would get a ride on a Greyhound bus, meaning they’d be fired from the team. Two of his drivers, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman, said Friday they would stand during the national anthem out of respect for the American flag. Dillon is also Childress’ grandson.
“I was doing some deer hunting this week, I drove up to Maryland,” Newman said, “and I passed a Greyhound bus. I didn’t see a single employee of RC Racing on it, so I think everybody’s fine.”
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▪ Danica Patrick announced a few weeks ago she would be leaving Stewart-Haas Racing, but there haven’t been any developments on where she might drive in 2018. Patrick said she leaves that part of her life to the business people and that they’re still working on finding her a ride.
▪ For cutdown weekend, the big three fighting to stay alive in the postseason are Dillon, Newman, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse is No. 12 in the standings (and 12 advance too the second round) by virtue of his better playoff finishes to date, but Dillon (No. 13) and Newman (No. 14) both have the potential to bump him.
▪ Truex also wins the ‘Heartwarming Story’ award for this week. He drove Thursday with several people who are paralyzed because of spinal cord injuries riding shotgun. Then they drove a few laps with the car adapted for their use. Very cool chance for a few fans to have the experience of a lifetime.