Turn 2 Blog: Teammate friction going into the NASCAR Playoffs and Daytona desperation

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

This is not the the best time for friction between teammates, is it?

Richard: While the words spoken by Chase Elliott following Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson’s bump-and-run on the final restart on Sunday at Watkins Glen were congratulatory, the tone and facial expression did indicate that he was not happy with how things had transpired. But from the perspective of a fan, it made for some entertaining television.

As far as the question is concerned, I don’t really think an issue between teammates during a regular season race is going to make a huge difference come Playoffs time. After all, everyone is rivals with everyone in those final ten races and it doesn’t matter whether those rivals drive for the same organization or not. Further, it would be disappointing if either of those drivers had laid over for the other and the same would be true when it comes time to decide the championship.

Larson admitted that he was not proud of the move he made by crowding Elliott up the track but he also stated that it was what he had to do to win the race. As I said above, that’s what drivers are supposed to do no matter what team they drive for.

Again, I don’t think this will have a major impact on the outcome of the Playoffs.

Michael: This is the difference between NASCAR and F1. In NASCAR, teammates will race each other hard for wins or even better spots. In F1, there are team orders and drivers have to abide by those orders.

I know Elliott had success the last couple of restarts being on the outside line. But with a few laps to go, you’re asking for trouble by taking the outside. Even if the inside driver doesn’t do anything, drivers in rows 2 or 3 may do something causing something to happen up front. Still, a driver doesn’t expect to be roughed up by a teammate.

Chase Elliott seems to be running well at the right time despite possible friction with Kyle Larson

Who has the momentum as the NASCAR Playoffs approach?

Richard: This seems to change every week. There have been times when it has been Ross Chastain, then Chase Elliott, then Kevin Harvick. I’m not sure anyone necessarily has momentum, but some simply seem to be running well at the right time. When the rubber meets the road, it might not matter very much anyway.

We saw an example of how it can be impossible to gauge Playoff strength using “regular season” statistics back in 2011. A winless Tony Stewart went into the championship run proclaiming that even he did not have much faith in his chances. Immediately, though, he caught fire and won five of the last ten races to eventually claim the title.

Back to the question at hand, I have no idea which four drivers I would pick as those who will go into the final race with a chance to win the championship. If I had to say a name as the driver who is going into the Playoffs as a favorite, I would have to say Chase Elliott. But as this 2022 season has taught us, that can change in the space of a week.

Michael: I also think Elliott should be the driver to beat. He’s good at most of the types of tracks during the final 10 races. It looks as though Larson is starting to run better. I would expect him to be one of those final four unless a plague of bad luck happens. Harvick has been on a roll, I don’t take Watkins Glen into account where he is right now. He’s really good at Darlington and Bristol, two of the first 3 playoff races. The question for him is The Roval and still carrying speed on tracks like Kansas and Texas.

Barring someone coming from nowhere and getting hot, it’s hard to predict who might make the final 4 outside of the names mentioned.

The only way for drivers such as Michael McDowell to make the Playoffs is with a win at Daytona

What are you expecting from Daytona?

Richard: Complete insanity, especially in the closing laps as drivers who are in a position of win-to-get-in make desperate moves trying to get a win that will earn admission into the Playoffs. The system in place not only allows for bold moves in this race but it encourages such. After all, that’s why Daytona was moved from its traditional July 4th date to the end of the regular season.

Those who are already locked into the Playoffs might go into Daytona with the idea that they can stay out of trouble in order to preserve their cars for the Playoff race at Talladega, but as we have seen in the past in the races at Daytona and Talladega, those kinds of plans are typically laid to waste very quickly.

Yes, there have been times when people have expected chaos at Daytona only to have the race play out in a tame manner, but I don’t think this will be one of those times.

Michael: I’m expecting utter chaos and a driver outside the top 16 to win and get into the playoffs. Drivers like Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, and Austin Dillon are all outside the top-16 and have wins on restrictor plate tracks. If a Hamlin or a Logano don’t eek out a win, I fully expect one of those from that group to upset the field and get a win to get in.

Please consider also reading:

Stewart-Haas looking to maintain momentum with Playoffs approaching

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